The Chicago-based chamber jazz bassist and composer visits Café Coda on March 4.
Last I caught up with Chicago bassist and composer Matt Ulery in the late 2010s, his Woolgathering Records label had begun to take off as a platform to spotlight not only his own prolificacy and ever-evolving projects but also the endeavors of his colleagues Russ Johnson, Tim Haldeman, and Leslie Beukelman.
After a memorable set at Arts + Literature Laboratory with trio Triptych back in spring of 2018, Ulery has been both figuratively and literally expanding his repertoire in a myriad of configurations that include a string sextet (Become Giant) and special orchestra with more than 20 members (Sifting Stars).
For this BlueStem Jazz-presented show, a regional collaboration between Ulery’s core rhythm section (pianist Paul Bedal and drummer Jon Deitemyer), plus six other Midwestern-based woodwind and brass players (Dave Cooper, Allen Cordingley, Hunter Diamond, Tom Gullion, Chad McCullough, and Ryan Shultz), the collective nonet will be performing pieces at Café Coda from the upcoming Mannerist record. Like all the sweeping, swooning chamber jazz Ulery has been making for more than a decade, the music here, as conceived for this larger ensemble, captures Ulery’s predilection for duality—resonantly vast in sonic palette, but delicately intimate in scope. The slower tempi of his precise songcraft tend to build with silken elegance, stirring romantic pangs for slow-waltzing in an ethereal ballroom.
“The Brink Of What,” one of Mannerist‘s absolute standouts, at first feels like a quietly pensive nocturne, but then quickly hits with the force of overwhelming emotion and instrumental interplay—the richness of its polarity forged from the same aura as the tortuously gorgeous, subtly dissonant horn and woodwind arrangements on These New Puritans’ best record, Field Of Reeds (if artsy post-rock is your kinda thing). As with several other compositions on Mannerist, like “Another Book Of Ornaments,” Ulery harnesses his best impulses in steadily reaching for a transcendent, ineffable intensity through sound dynamics, while at once trying to pierce the veil of universal human yearning.
The article was updated on March 1 to reflect a change in the nonet’s lineup.
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