Jan 25 2020
Best of 2019 #42: Matt Ulery – “Delicate Charms”
I’ve written negative reviews of three musicians on this site. They were as follows: Bill Frisell, Bobby Hutcherson, and Matt Ulery. Frisell and Hutcherson are jazz giants, and responsible for landmark recordings, and over the course of their careers have been instrumental in the advancement of jazz. I ripped apart their (at the time) new releases for being far below what they were capable of. Basically, for the crime of being ordinary.
Matt Ulery’s sin didn’t even rise to that level. In hindsight, I really should’ve cut the guy some slack. The bassist and composer is young by jazz standards, but he’s also way ahead of the curve by way of creative accomplishments. The Chicagoan has already delivered a unique sound that is as inventive as it is classic. One day I expect to be speaking of his works with the same reverence as I do Henry Threadgill or Wayne Horvitz. In truth, it was awfully tepid criticism. I basically said his album was too pretty. And it was. It lacked some of the edge and mystery of past works. But in the grand scheme of things, there was nothing really wrong with the album, and perhaps focusing on that single flaw was a bit much… especially in the context that it’s still early, for him (and for us, as listeners), and also possessing an understanding that his music, like all others, exists in a continuum, where some things are merely elements of transformations to come, changes to manifest, and, perhaps a too-pretty recording leading to a grand beauty of the future.
I bring all this up, because that future grand beauty became the present in 2019 with Delicate Charms. The album has the majestic stature of his jazz orchestra recordings and the curious melodicism of his small ensemble Loom sessions, and yet the elements of each come together in a way that are much different than simple addition, a different kind of math altogether, an abstract calculation where one plus one equals universe. It’s a gorgeous recording. It’s also a huge reminder that we are watching evolution in action, tracking artists as their music changes as they change and as the music transforms yet again. It is easy to forget how truly miraculous it all is.
Your album personnel: Matt Ulery (double bass), Greg Ward (alto sax), Zach Brock (violin), Rob Clearfield (piano) and Quin Kirchner (drums).
Released on Woolgathering Records.
Music from Chicago, IL.
I wrote about this album for The Bandcamp Daily.
Jan 29 2020
Best of 2019 #25: Ethnic Heritage Ensemble – “Be Known”
The voice of Kahil El’Zabar is music from Afro-Futurism’s past. The AACM veteran set both Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and Ritual Trio in motion nearly fifty years ago, and the intoxicating mix of spiritual jazz, classical, blues, and avant-garde were as effective at obliterating stereotypes and tropes of who should be making which kinds of music as it was at finding both simple and complex ways of expressing the blues and what it meant to live this life. His music was an inspiration then, and continues to serve as a beacon to musicians today who carry on the Afro-futuristic tradition. His 2019 release Be Known, with trumpeter Corey Wilkes, baritone saxophonist Alex Harding, and cellist Ian Maksin illustrates all of those qualities, and with an immediacy and a newness that puts the focus on what Ethnic Heritage Ensemble is in the here and now. Be Known ain’t no throwback album. This is vision forward.
Your album personnel: Kahil El’Zabar (percussion, voice), Corey Wilkes (trumpet, percussion), Alex Harding (baritone sax), and Ian Maksin (cello).
Released on Spiritmuse Records.
Music from Chicago, IL.
Cool cover art by Nep Sidhu.
Listen | Read more | Available at: Bandcamp – Amazon
By davesumner • Recap: Best of 2019 • 0 • Tags: Best Jazz of 2019, Chicago, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Kahil El'Zabar, Spiritmuse Records