Now seems like a good time to talk about saxophonist Matt Otto


Saxophonist Matt Otto has a couple of new albums out, so this seems like a good time as any to feature the music of an artist that first hit my radar nearly five years ago.

Let’s begin…


Matt Otto with Ensemble Ibérica – Ibérica

Otto’s collaboration with the Ensemble Ibérica is a series of languid expressions, each possessing the potent combination of a stunning beauty and a disarming gentleness.  The delicate accents of Spanish and chamber add some compelling textures, and the inclusion of instruments like oud, steel guitar, cavaquinho, cello and Cuban tres brings a liveliness to the conversation that serves to emphasize the serenity, not threaten it.  And while Matt Otto’s tenor sax has a bold voice clear as day, his slight modulations between a sunny smile and a moody calm incites the prevailing serenity to resonate with a spellbinding intensity.  Ibérica is easily one of the most gorgeous things to be released in 2017, thus far.

Your album personnel:  Matt Otto (tenor sax) and Ensemble Ibérica: Beau Bledsoe (guitar, oud), Jordan Shipley (guitar, cavaquinho), Michael McClintock (electric guitar, Cuban tres, acoustic bass guitar), Brad Cox (Rhodes), Karl McComas-Reichl (bass, cello) and Mike Stover (steel guitar).

Released on Origin Records.

Available at:  Amazon | eMusic


Matt Otto & Andy Ehling – Reunion

Of particular interest on this straight-ahead session from Otto and Andy Ehling are the two compositions that are shared with Otto’s collaboration with Ensemble Ibérica.  On Reunion, “Elm” is a jaunty tune with a cheery disposition, and hearing how it’s transformed into a state of complete and utter tranquility on Ibérica is alone worth the price of the download.  The same could be said of “Du Bois,” and how its Middle-Eastern influence and hypnotic oud solo undergo a metamorphosis into fiercely burning embers on Reunion.  And then there’s a track like “Twain,” which is unique to this 2015 recording date, but which has the languid expressionism that marks the success of the Ibérica recording.  But, truly, the heart of this recording is a track like “Adler,” with its brisk pace and casual delivery that transmits the impression that these are simply good friends getting together to play and someone just so happened to have a recording device lying around.  Friendly music willing to reveal some depth behind the wide smile.

Your album personnel:  Matt Otto (tenor sax), Andy Ehling (alto sax), Leonard Thompson (Rhodes), Brad Williams (drums) and Ben Leifer (bass).

Released on Jazz Collective Records.

Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Available at:  Bandcamp | Amazon


Matt Otto – Broken Waltz

Otto’s 2012 release Broken Waltz was my introduction to his music.  What immediately grabbed me was the interplay between Otto and the bass clarinet of Brian Walsh.  Otto clearly loves the conversations that occur with other reed instruments, and seems to delight in creating intertwined melodic lines and watching the array of patterns emerge.  A similar effect occurred on his Reunion collaboration with fellow saxophonist Andy Ehling, but hearing the light & dark contrast between tenor sax and bass clarinet is a seriously arresting element to Broken Waltz, and while it certainly isn’t the only compelling feature of this excellent recording, it possesses a gravitas that earns the attention it draws in.

On Rhodes, Leonard Thompson does some nifty shading around the edges of the solos, and gives them a presence of greater expanse and nuance, both.  Vocalist Sara Gazarek sits in on a few tracks, and strikes a nice balance between complementing the album’s inclination toward introversion and counterbalancing it with a tone that’s more outgoing.  There are moments, like on “Origin,” where the bass and drum combo of David Carpenter and Jason Harnell develop a chatter that borders on hypnotic.

It’s a strong album that deserves another round of attention.  Note to long-time readers:  Broken Waltz was a Jazz Pick back when I was writing for eMusic, so check your library first before hitting the download button to be sure you haven’t already scooped this album up.

Your album personnel:  Matt Otto (tenor & soprano saxophones), Leonard Thompson (Rhodes), David J Carpenter (bass), Jason Harnell (drums), Brian Walsh (bass clarinet) and Sara Gazarek (vocals).

Released on Jazz Collective Records.

Listen to more of the album on the artist’s Bandcamp page.

Available at:  Amazon | CDBaby | eMusic | Bandcamp


Innocent When You Dream – Celebrating the Music of Tom Waits

This 2010 collaboration with trumpeter Aaron Shragge has them embracing the Tom Waits songbook and giving it all of the melancholy tones, wry sense of humor and sudden bursts of cheery optimism that marks the source music.  The contributions of Greg Leisz on pedal steel go a long way to cinching the album’s success, but it clear right from the start that each musician is plugged in to what Waits is all about.

Your album personnel:  Matt Otto (tenor sax), Aaron Shragge (trumpet, shakuhachi), Brandon Bernstein (guitar), Jason Harnell (drums), Ryan McGillicuddy (bass) and Greg Leisz (pedal steel).

Released on Jazz Collective Records.

Available at:  Amazon | eMusic

And there’s plenty more to discover.  Give a listen to other Otto recordings on his Bandcamp page.

You can also give a listen on his Soundcloud page.

And then there’s also his main site.