There is a marked disconnect between the title and cover art of Dmitri Matheny’s new album and the music within.
The disc, the flugelhornist’s 10th as a leader, is titled “Sagebrush Rebellion” and sports a suitably Southwestern image on the cover, an evocative shot of desert terrain reflecting the reds of sunset beneath a cloud-streaked sky. If you didn’t know Matheny’s work, you likely might suspect him of being an Americana artist and guess “Sagebrush Rebellion” is a collection of neo-cowboy tunes.
The album itself, however, is straight-ahead jazz, a tasteful, loose-limbed but invigorating session recorded live at a San Diego nightclub. The material is good and varied, featuring both original tunes and compositions from the likes of Duke Ellington, Johnny Burke and Charlie Haden. Matheny’s band includes Nick Mason (piano), Justin Grinnell (bass) and Duncan Moore (drums).
Matheny is on the road this month performing CD release concerts across the state. The schedule includes dates August 21 at Kummbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, August 23 at the Hedley Club in San Jose and August 24 at J.B.’s Lounge in Sacramento. Here’s what Matheny had to tell me regarding “Sagebrush Rebellion” and his composing process.
Question: Let's start by talking about the material, which includes one of my favorite compositions, Nat Adderley’s "One for Daddy-O." What sort of balance or theme were you looking for in performing these pieces?
Matheny: This album is a live recording from a performance at Dizzy's San Diego last fall. You're hearing the tunes we chose to play that night, pretty much in the same order we played them. We tried to put together a balanced set with a variety of moods and grooves. The only unifying theme is that these are all tunes we love to play and improvise over: some originals, a couple of favorite standards and a few jazz classics – including "One For Daddy-O."
Question: The album closes with a pair of originals, “Red Reflections” and the title tune. What is your composing process like?
Matheny: For me, it always begins with a melody. Now, some composers write religiously at the same time every day. Not me. I can’t compose unless I’m inspired. Occasionally I’ll feel an overwhelming desire to write late at night or at other inconvenient times. I’ve learned to pay attention to that feeling, to drop whatever I’m doing and “strike while the iron is hot.”
I write most prolifically when traveling, so you might say that many of my compositions are inspired by my travels. A melody will come to me and I’ll sing it to myself, allowing it to evolve and develop organically in my mind. Eventually harmony, counterpoint and other formal elements will begin to suggest themselves. That’s when I sit down and take out my score paper.
Question: "Sagebrush Rebellion" benefits greatly from the live setting – the audience to my ears give the recording an additional warmth and intimacy. Why did you choose to record live and why at Dizzy's?
Matheny: Jim Merod from BluePort Jazz was good friends with my mentor, Art Farmer, and recorded him many times. When Jim asked if he could record our show at Dizzy's, I immediately said yes. The result is pure serendipity.
This is my kind of album: a relaxed, swinging session with a few good friends who also happen to be great musicians. It's thrilling to make music with such tastefully inventive improvisers as Nick, Justin and Duncan. Like Art Farmer used to say, if you're the smartest cat in the room, you're in the wrong room.
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