Matt Slocum is a new name to me and, therefore, quite possibly to many of you reading this. So here’s some background information. Drummer Matt was born in New Richmond, Wisconsin in 1981. He has studied with Peter Erskine, Alan Pasqua, John Clayton and Joe LaBarbera. He’s worked with Seamus Blake, Alan Broadbent and Wynton Marsalis and even the Dallas Symphony Orchestra. He cites his compositional influences as Duke Ellington, Wayne Shorter, Tom Harrell and Dave Holland together with Debussy and Ravel. As a drummer he’s influenced by Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, Max Roach, Bill Stewart and Eric Harland. With this list, expectations for this disk were high.
So to the music. Alongside Slocum we have Steve Cardenas on guitar and Dayna Stephens on saxophones. Cardenas is the ‘veteran’ here having been around the jazz scene since the mid-1990’s and having worked with the likes of Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Steve Swallow. Stephens, in addition to leading his own group, has worked with Kenny Barron, Ambrose Akinmusire and Taylor Eigsti amongst others and has released five albums as leader.
Recorded in March of this year, all of the music, as one used to say, comes from the pen of the leader with the exception of ‘I Can’t Believe That Your in Love with Me’ by Jimmy McHugh and the Charlie Parker line ‘Relaxin’ at Camarillo’. The McHugh standard for me recalling the classic interpretation by fellow saxophonist Art Pepper.
The focus is firmly on group interplay rather than solo fireworks. Each of Slocum’s six compositions are carefully thought out. Cardenas seems to be the perfect guitarist for this session. Listen to the delicacy employed by all on ‘Atlantic’ with an unexpected and subtle drum solo near the start of the piece. Stephens on soprano saxophone is equally expressive.
‘Relaxin’’ begins with a delicate drum solo on brushes before the guitarist and saxophonist (this time alto) enter, together creating an abstract tapestry of sound. The drums take centre stage making a fleeting reference to the familiar be-bop line before saxophone and guitar re-enter to clearly state the Charlie Parker theme to conclude the performance.
‘Afterglow’ is a gem of a composition with Stephens romantically expressive on tenor saxophone. In fact, Stephens is a revelation throughout the album. He has a soft, luxuriant tone. For him there is not the edge of many contemporary saxophone stylists. If you are looking for musical reference points think in terms of Stan Getz and Joe Henderson.
‘Yerazel’ opens with wonderfully sensitive yet abstract guitar and more delicate tenor sax and drums follow.
At times during this recording I’m put in mind of the music that Joe Lovano and Bill Frisell made together, but, of course, Cardenas is his own man throughout and is certainly no Frisell clone.
Slocum is certainly a ‘musical’ drummer, not given to excesses of bombast. He can swing when the music requires him to do so, but more often he is tracing out delicate patterns punctuating and brining into sharp focus the work of his colleagues.
Recorded sound is excellent. I recommend that you savour the delights of this album using headphones. This is music that is at once immediately accessible but also gives up further delights upon repeated listening.