Matt Slocum – Portraits (2010)

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When you read the liner notes to Matt Slocum’s new record Portraits, it’s full of effusive but knowledgeable praise from one of Slocum’s former instructors at the University of Southern California, where he earned a degree from the prestigious Thornton School of Music. That’s a pretty good reference, but it gains more credence because of two things: the laudatory remarks come from all-world drummer/composer Peter Erskine and Slocum is a drummer/composer himself. “He ‘gets’ Philly Joe Jones and Roy Haynes as good as any other drummer I know and has managed to infuse his drumming with his own style,” observes Erskine. That’s one way of saying that Slocum takes chances, and understands how to use the drums as an instrument to provide the right coloration, not just the right beat. And most of all, he knows how to swing.

As for Matt Slocum The Composer, well, Portraits itself was made possible thanks in part to a Meet The Composer Foundation grant. That’s one way of saying “I’m putting my money where my mouth is.”

This New Richmond, Wisconsin native now in New York for the last couple of years has come forth with an album of eight originals and one Billy Strayhorn cover that provides a good measure of how he is able to handle performing and creating in the most demanding jazz environment in the world. For these sessions, Slocum chooses some of the finer young players in that town: pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Massimo Biolcati, tenor saxophonists Walter Smith III and Dayna Stephens, and alto sax player Jaleel Shaw. But Slocum liberally tinkers with the configuration from song to song, employing a sax on only four tracks, and doing away with the piano of two of them. The variation in the sound palette that results sustains interest, almost like you’re listening to a compilation of the choice cuts from a variety of different artists.

The piano-less “Homage” displays Slocum’s old-school ability to interact one-on-one with a sax and bass in succession, but it also shows he can build a thematic line memorable enough to not require a chordal instrument to state it. On the other end of tactics he uses, “Avenida Del Paraiso” replaces the sax with Clayton’s piano to render a rich, Brazilian-inspired melody that is mostly a wonderful showcase for Clayton. However, Slocum’s carefully modulated cymbal and brush work helps to make this song work, too. In between these bookends are a variety of other little pleasures: Slocum’s sophisticated mallets such as in the middle of Strayhorn’s “Daydream,” the bass/drums groove underpinning Clayton’s lively piano on “Cambria,” and quiet conversation between two fine sax players (Stephens, Shaw) on “Seven Stars.” For each tune, Slocum employs different tempos and different approaches for meshing with his colleagues, in a manner that fits the song the best.

Released on January 19 on Chandra Records, Portraits establishes Matt Slocum as a leader who doesn’t just pay lip service to the post-bop tradition, he immerses himself in it in a way that reminds us why we fell in love with that kind of music in the first place. Says Erskine, “it can be stated with certainty that the Matt Slocum album you’re listening to is a real ‘jazz’ record.” To which I say, “amen, brother.”

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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