Matt Ulery, Chicago-based bassist-composer, casts a mysterious, dense, often warm spell with his quintet called by the same name as the album, Delicate Charms. The unit is unusual in that the front line features alto saxophonist Greg Ward and violinist Zach Brock, each capable of inventive melodic lines, ensemble work, engaging dialogues, and contrapuntal moments. By turns it’s energetic, sensitive, layered, and colorful – a different kind of rich harmonic than we are generally accustomed to. The rhythm section is rounded by pianist Rob Clearfield, drummer Quin Kirchner, and leader Ulery who plays double bass on all tracks.
The opportunity to perform with this unusual configuration came about when Ulery was asked to perform a set at the Guimaraes (Portugal) Jazz Festival, at which he was the artist/composer-in-residence, in November 2018. At the time he entitled the group “Delicate Charms” and was so pleased with the performance that they flew to Chicago after the festival and recorded this album.
The album begins with the longest piece at over 13 minutes entitled “Coping,” a suite of six parts that was composed slowly over the course of a year as health issues facing family members impacted the thoughts and flow of the piece, infused with classical elements that capture the virtues of patience, acceptance, and transition. Brock initially sets a melancholy tone that brightens somewhat when Ward and Clearfield enter, and it ebbs and flows like that across the movements with moments of high drama, intrigue, and suspense through alternating dissonant and melodic passages.
“Mellisonant,” as the title implies is sweeter and warmer, with Ward and Brock trading improvisational solos. “The Effortless Enchantment’’ is a dream-like piece where one can envision a gathering of creatures having a good time, whether it be ants building an anthill or bees swarming around a hive (obviously listeners may conjure their own imagery). Clearfield and Ward assume prominence with stunning solos in the highly rhythmic “The Air We Breathe” while “Taciturn” begins loudly and dissonantly before Brock and Clearfield take it into calmer territory. “October” returns to the melancholy hues that opened the album, with an especially intriguing solo from Clearfield, setting us up for the closer “Nerve” that begins meditatively with Clearfield before morphing into highly melodic excursions from Ward and Brock. This is the only time where leader Ulery solos extensively, commencing gently before making his declarative statement that builds to a grand climax with the full band joining.
Ulery’s music, from small, diverse chamber ensembles to full orchestras, is informed by the entire spectrum of jazz, classical, rock, pop, and folk– specifically American, South American, Balkan, and other European folk styles. He has been performing for 23 years on upright, electric, and brass basses. For a decade, Ulery has been the leader of his own groups and frequent collaborator. He has produced and released eight albums of all original music under his name including three recent releases of critical acclaim, “By a Little Light,” “Wake an Echo,” and “In the Ivory,” on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf Music record label between 2012-2014 along with his latest, “Festival (2016),” and “Sifting Stars (2018)” on his own label, Woolgathering Records.
If you’re looking for something just a bit different that fuses classical and jazz, this should appeal to you.
- Jim Hynes