Matt Ulery ‘Delicate Charms’ LP/CD (Woolgathering) 4/5

It’s always a pleasure to hear Matt Ulery’s and Greg Ward’s unique, innovative takes on jazz. “Delicate Charms” is bass player/composer Ulery’s 9th (!) album as bandleader and it brings him together with Ward (alto sax) plus old mates Zach Broch (violin), Rob Clearfield (piano) and Quin Kirchner (drums). A violin and alto attack, eh? Interesting sonic and emotional possibilities…

“Coping” is a +13 minute six-part suite, where the graceful, lyrical, swollen violin/alto harmonised melodies are sodden with emotion while its rhythmical changes guide us through a dramatic inner process of pain and reflection. No surprise when we understand that the piece was created over the course of a year during which Ulery’s close family members suffered health challenges. It’s a beautifully grand, mesmeric short story of solemnity and passion.

“The Effortless Enchantment” is an aptly titled romance that Ulery wrote for his parents’ 40th wedding anniversary vow renewal celebration. Soft-lensed, nuanced and celebratory, it glows with affection.

“Mellisonant” opens with an eye-wateringly wistful melody right out of a love-lost silent movie and then rolls into 3 more parts; all gentle, all captivatingly filmic. The interaction between Ward and Broch is magical – there’s no rush, there’s no egging-on as such just watchful empathy and understanding. They know where each other is, gently passing into the space ahead of them.

“The Air We Breath” is more urgent; tighter with a mildly claustrophobic tension which is occasionally breezed away but always returns, tightening chests. Clearfield and Kirchner boss this tighten-then-release dynamic, with Clearfield’s spiritual, free, caressing solo achieving peak calm.

“Taciturn” has a curt, rock energy. It broods where the rest of album candidly emotes. “October” is a rework of a track on Ulery’s second album. It has a suspicious, tango energy as if the dancing partners mistrust each other but are incapable of separating; their passion increasing as the piece intensifies before relaxing into a calm, shared post-coital smoke.

The final track, “Nerve”, opens with Clearfield taking us on an eyes-closed, journey of feel; delicate daydream showers. Brock and Ward then lift us with equal beauty but greater purpose before Ulery ruminates and communicates and the quintet fasten, grip and surge to an energised finale.

“Delicate Charms” is gorgeous. Ulery’s unique vision of subtle grandiosity is let fly. It is texturally layered and emotionally swollen yet maintains a refined elegance; dense yet crystal-clear. With each album, Ulery’s voice evolves and gains greater focus. Always a pleasure.

Ian Ward

Read also:
Matt Ulery ‘Sifting Stars’ LP/CD (Woolgathering) 3/5