by Richard Kamins, Step Tempest

Music and poetry are often intertwined; whether it’s through the turn of the lyrical phrase or the message of the verse, poetry has a rhythm that speaks to many people. Trumpeter and composer Matt Holman was introduced to the Greek poet Sappho (630-550 B.C) by his wife in the early of their courtship and the poet’s words fell on receptive ears. Historians believe that the poems were written to be sung with accompaniment of the lyre.

Holman, who has worked or is now working with large ensembles led by Darcy James Argue, John Hollenbeck  Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass, Asphalt Orchestra, guitarist Joel Harrison, and the JC Sanford Orchestra (among others), also is a member of the SKETCHES quintet and is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Hunter College.

The poetry of Sappho is the inspiration for “The Tenth Muse” (New Focus Recordings), the trumpeter’s second album.  Working with Sam Sadigursky (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), and Bobby Avey (piano), Holman uses fragments of poems (many of them no more than a short sentence) to create 16 pieces that are minimalistic yet melodic, thoughtful, meditative, reflective, emotionally powerful, and sometimes verging on melancholy.

It’s best to let the music do the talking. The clarity of the sound, the beauty of the individual instruments, how the composer and arranger mixes and matches the voices, how the poetic fragments become musical stories, the moments when the music transports the listener (literally) out of time, all this and more makes “The Tenth Muse” very special. There are moments when the Sadigursky’s clarinet or soprano sax echoes or trails behind the trumpet, when the rolling piano chords build to a thundering climax, when Dingman’s vibraphone peels like a church bell or the trumpet sustains a note that resonate long after the album ends.

Holman leaves space in the program for each member of the ensemble to have an unaccompanied solo. Those interludes are the shortest tracks in the 67-minute suite but do not feel extraneous (are titled as “Fragments“). And, while there is a classical chamber music feel to the proceedings (especially in Bobby Avey’s piano work), the music defies categorization. The composer wisely leaves it up to each listener to find his or her way.

If you are a person who loves to get lost in music, who likes to be challenged and rewarded by a composer and his ensemble, then seek out “The Tenth Muse.” The sounds, these abstract notes that coalesce into emotions, have great power and stand out from the standard fare. Matt Holman has given us a wonderful present; take notice.

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