An emerging talent who has starred in Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society and a 2009 winner of ASCAP Young Jazz Composer’s Competition, trumpet player Matt Holman has put it all together for his maiden record as a leader, When Flooded. Much like Apple sought to replicate the experience of the full size iPad in a smaller package with the iPad Mini, Holman is following the same basic strategy by shoehorning the jazz orchestra experience into a small, chamber jazz combo, a central idea behind this album.
To pull off this feat of a large band sound in a quintet, Holman configured a group that represents different part of the orchestra, such as woodwinds (Mike McGuinnis, clarinet and bass clarinet), strings (Christopher Hoffman, cello), percussion (Ziv Ravitz, drums), and tossed in an amplified instrument for good measure (Nate Radley, guitar) to augment Holman’s own brass.
McGuinnis’ clarinet and Hoffman’s cello in particular lend themselves to the formal sound Holman is seeking, largely because of how they’re played within Holman’s layered arrangements. But Holman’s meticulously constructed pieces have a lot to do with it, too. Holman’s approach much of the time is to push the songs forward through various motifs and moods, but unifying it under a pulse or broad theme that provides the symmetry.
There’s always room for improvisation, too, and Holman strikes a careful balance between that and scoring. Nowhere does that work better than on the title song. On “When Flooded,” Holman introduces a harmonic idea that’s almost at odds with Radley’s, and dovetails with McGuinnis’ harmony part. The song moves into a harsher mood that borders on rock, the collisions and unison between the horns within the chorus becoming the focal point. Radley is given solo space, too, over the trudging, heavy pulse of Ravitz and Hoffman’s plucked cello, an odd combination that also oddly succeeds.
Ravitz is given a lot of leeway throughout the album, which he uses to provide rhythmic punch to these songs, often in inconspicuous ways: he drums in a funky manner that propels McGuinnis’ solo on “Kindred Spirits,” performs a sublime, delicate hand percussion to “Where The Tracks End,” and lays down a mutated second line beat on “Chain of Command.”
In addition to masterminding these strains, Holman does a fine job as, well, a trumpet player. His playing style holds some similarity to Dave Douglas, especially in his timbre, and he sparkles on his solo on “Kindred Sprits,” employs a warm tone on “Tutti” and negotiates his way skillfully through the complex harmonic structures of “Between.”
Holman ends the album with one through-composed number, “Syndrome,” which gently builds up to crescendo, then comes in for soft landing. Though no one is improvising here, this brief number illustrates how Holman can tell a musical story even when everything is scripted.
The story of When Flooded, however, is about a burgeoning talent who on his first outing sweats the details like an old vet. Matt Holman sees jazz as an art form, with a heavy emphasis on art. He’s off to an admirable start in that lofty pursuit.