By: Richard Kamins, Step Tempest
Bassist, composer, orchestrator, and arranger Matt Ulery has been a busy member of the Chicago music scene since arriving two decades. He studied at both Roosevelt University and Depaul University and played professionally with the likes of Patricia Barber, Kurt Rosenwinkel, and trumpeter Marcus Hill. he first recorded as a leader in 2007 and, since then, has worked with numerous different-sized ensembles, from trios to quintets to nonets to a brass band and a jazz orchestra. His compositions have been performed by groups as diverse as Eighth Blackbird, Axiom Brass, and the New Millennium Orchestra of Chicago. In 2016, Ulery inaugurated his own label, Woolgathering Records, with red;eases by his Loom/Large ensemble, pianist Rob Clearfield, trumpeter Russ Johnson, and saxophonist Tim Haldemann.
His new album, “Delicate Charms“, features long-time associates Zach Brock (violin), Greg Ward (alto saxophone), Quin Kirchner (drums), pianist Clearfield, and the leader on bass and all compositions. Ulery worked on the pieces for this lineup over the course of several years and the quintet went to Portugal in late 2018 where they received an ecstatic reaction from the audiences. Immediately on arrival back in Chicago, the group entered the studio. As to be expected, the music is beyond category but one can not miss the composer’s love for melody, harmony, and counterpoint. The rhythm section is a major component in the music as well, not just with its use of polyrhythms but their own medic additions. What immediately stands out is the blend of the violin and alto sax – when Brock and Ward play together, the sound is so full and it’s hard to tell them apart unless one is under headphones. Listen to the opening moments of the first track “Coping“; with Ulery and Brock bowing while Ward is playing, they sound like a string trio. Then, the violinist takes the melody and Ward plays the counter-melody. And, then they switch throughout the reading of the theme and verses.
There are numerous delights on this hour-plus program. Ward, who is my choice for 2019 MVP (most valuable player) shines on “Taciturn” – his wide-ranging solo pushes Brock who follows with his own sparkling performance. Meanwhile, the rhythm section is rocking beneath them. Clearfield’s piano solo at the onset of “Nerve” (the final track) has a classical feel with overtones of Appalachian folk music. The melody that follows carries on that sound with a melody that pulls at the emotions Pay attention to Kirchner’s active drumming as well as to how he puts the rhythm on simmer underneath Ulery’s excellent solo. Notice the soulful alto solo where the phrases take flight, reaching towards the skies.
Every track on “Delicate Charms” is worth exploring in depth. Over his career, Matt Ulery has created music that expands inside one’s ears and mind, making the listener return to discover all that’s in the music. With this album and July’s release of “Wonderment” (a trio date with Brock and drummer Jon Deitmeyer), Matt Ulery has produced two of the best recordings of 2019!