By: Hrayr Attarian, Chicago Jazz Magazine
Bassist and composer Matt Ulery has penned some of the most unique pieces in modern jazz. Over his career he has developed a brilliant musicianship with a signature sound. He has also nurtured long-standing relationships with like-minded artists, few of whom—like violinist Zach Brock and keyboardist Rob Clearfield—have appeared on almost all of his recordings.
The exquisite Delicate Charms is the latest entry into his superb oeuvre: a perfectly balanced work that demonstrates Ulery’s subtly multilayered writing, as well as his penchant to inventively blur the boundaries between the composed and the improvised.
The pièce de résistance of this innovative album is the six-part continuous suite, “Coping,” that unfurls like a theatrical narrative. It begins with Brock hauntingly stating the melancholic theme and concludes with a collective roar. The quintet acts, at times, like a polyphonic chorus with overlapping vamps that create hypnotic and dynamic patterns. The passionate exchanges among the group members ebb and flow with Clearfield’s crystalline tones, emulating a cascading fountain in an enchanting sonic garden. There is also a period of angst and fury as saxophonist Greg Ward and Brock let their instruments wail while drummer Quin Kirchner lets loose thunderous beats.
Some of the solos and duets are carefully constructed to allow for plenty of thrilling spontaneity. On the wistful “October,” for instance, Clearfield improvises with lyricism and moody contemplation while Ward and Brock exchang intriguing and expressive phrases. Ulery and Brock bow in unison, giving the tune an ethereal effect as they bring it full circle to its starting motifs.
Brock and Ulery play the almost baroque intro of the cinematic “Mellisonant,” unaccompanied by their bandmates. Clearfield’s elegant pianism ushers in the expansive and lilting group performance. Ward and Brock both take turns in the spotlight with pensive and eloquent soliloquies that are intimate and emotive, while Ulery and Kirchner create a percolating rhythmic backdrop.
With each release, Ulery’s vision grows and matures—making him one of the most intrepid and innovative contemporary musicians. The mellifluous and intricate Delicate Charms is thought-provoking and charmingly sophisticated. It is novel, complex yet accessible, which, together with its singular style, are the makings of an instant classic.