Sep 3 2013
The music of Matt Ulery has always possessed a unique motion all to itself. His 2008 Music Box Ballerina and the 2011 release Flora Fauna Fervor created grace with an odd clockwork precision that muddied the lines between formality and eccentric expressionism. Big ideas seemed to boil just below the surface of tiny sounds.
That all changed in 2012 with By A Little Light. Ulery channeled his sound through an orchestral line-up that brought a big sound to his expansive vision. The addition of strings and a guest vocalist added elements to his compositions that his previous, smaller line-ups only hinted at, allowing them to explode into something far bigger, far grander.
For his 2013 release Wake an Echo, Ulery scales his ensemble back down to a quintet. Still present are the Big Ideas, but they’re offered up in tightly bundled expressions, not unlike staring at the image of a vast horizon in the reflection of a handheld mirror. Gone are the mysterious interludes and oddball sounds and unconventional instrumentation… it’s a standard quintet playing big music and ushering it along in an orderly fashion. It’s the perfect meeting point between eccentricity and stateliness.
Your album personnel: Matt Ulery (bass), Marquis Hill (trumpet), Jon Deitemyer (drums, cymbals), Rob Clearfield (piano, accordion), and Geof Bradfield (bass clarinet).
The album opens with “The Lady Vanishes,” which provides a nice stepping-off point from Ulery’s previous album, and best exemplifies his method of taking Big Sounds and wrapping them up in a tight ball. The ebb and flow of tension as the music shifts from sharp abrupt moments of percussion to comforting lift-offs of melody and harmony speak very much to the expansive sound of By a Little Light while encapsulating it in succinct statements of modicum and control.
The ballad of “In Every Lonely Chamber” is a testament to the trumpet’s ability to personify moonlight and bass clarinet’s ability to make the shadows seem more a source of comfort than one of fearfulness.
“Coriander” begins with a playful hop and skip, but gradually builds steam, led by the fun and frenetic charge of Clearfield and Deitmyer on piano and drums.
“Over Under Other” is remarkable for the lovely harmonic partnership between Hill and Bradfield on trumpet and bass clarinet. It forces the ear to pick between melody and harmony as it expresses both simultaneously, creating an enviable tension during a moment of sublime lilting beauty.
“My Favorite Stranger” emits Ulery’s impressionistic folk song voicing. The rhythm twirls tight circles around trumpet’s happy bounce and the melting warmth of accordion.
“Carefree” begins with the insinuation of a meditative tune, but steers into more straight-ahead territory with a transition that speaks as much to the capabilities of the musicians as the strength of Ulery’s compositions.
Ulery delivers that meditative piece with album-closer “All the Riven.” The quintet drifts across the expanse of the composition, its gentle delivery unchanged even during the construction of a simmering tension.
One of those albums that can be enjoyed on its own terms, but really thrives when viewed in the context of the continuum of Ulery’s work. No reason to hold off on scooping this album up, but I do encourage you to check out his other recordings. It’ll be a rewarding experience.
Released on the Greenleaf Music label.
Listen to more of the album at the artist’s Bandcamp page.
Jazz from the Chicago scene.
Some Additional Notes:
All of the other musicians contributing on this album will lead to other solid albums. Most notably, trumpeter Marquis Hill and bass clarinetist Geof Bradfield have received warm receptions on this site. Okay, check that. I did review Hill’s Sounds of the City, which I link to in his name just above, but as it turns out, I never reviewed Bradfield’s excellent 2013 release Melba! Here’s a link to my eMusic Jazz Picks synopsis of the album, and in the meantime, I’m gonna put together a formal review for this site soon. I was damn sure I had already written it up, but I can’t find anything. I guess that’s what happens when a disorganized person is swamped with so much great music.
A lot of these guys are active on the Chicago scene, so if you’re living in my former hometown, take advantage of the opportunity to catch them live.
Speaking of live, if you search for more music by Ulery on my site, it should pull up a video of two of him performing live with the expanded line-up.