Matthew Whitaker / Outta the Box
A look at the Next “Stevie”?
June 25, 2018
Emerging Jazz Artist Series
After my short one-week summer vacation from writing these “Corner” articles, I felt the need to come back with something special, and here he is; Matthew Whitaker. At a mere 17 years of age, Matthew has taken the jazz music scene by storm. This young man who happens to be blind, has a sophistication of style and play that sounds as though he has decades of performing under his belt. Born in Hackensack NJ, in 2001 this young wonder has garnered many accolades and awards from prestigious jazz music competitions, festivals, and music schools. His instruments of choice are piano, Hammond B3, and drums, and he’s also an accomplished composer and arranger. Many of you may have seen this young man perform on Showtime at the Apollo, The Today Show, or Ellen DeGeneres show among other television appearances. He also has a long list of shows, festivals and clubs in which he has performed during his brief eight-year career.
The appropriately named “Otta the Box” is Matthew’s first album and he uses it to showcases his prodigious talent. For instance, not only is he a talented piano player and organist, but Matthew has arranged every song on the album and has composed several songs on the album as well.
The first song on this album is entitled Matt’s Blues. The song is a big band tune written by Matthew, and to help things along is none other than the great bassist Christian McBride who is a major league big band force himself. As many of you may know, Christian has won six Grammys, two of which were for Big Band performance of the year, and his presence on this track is felt as well as heard.
The song starts out simply enough with Matthew’s solo piano for about one measure or so, and then the band kicks in. First up are the horns accentuating the melody, followed immediately by Christian McBride’s bass which is used to carry the song through to the end. The song is only two minutes and fifty-nine seconds long, but it jams big time blues during its run. Will Calhoun’s drum and drum solo near the end are magic and funk all mixed up in a fiery ball of pure big band “wow”. This tune, although short, is impressive, and so is Matthew’s command of the blues. It has sophistication, style and class, and it’s fun to listen to, giving a great start to this album.
The next track I’d like to talk about is the third song on the album entitled Flow. Flow is a poignantly beautiful composition written by Matthew and reminiscent of Herbie Hancock and or Vince Guaraldi. The quintet of Matthew on piano, Artie Reynolds playing a beautiful electric bass, Phil Hamilton/guitar, Sammy Figueroa/percussions and Pudge Tribbett/drums bring this lovely 6/8 score to a quiet reality. With beautiful ebbs and flows this song is a soothing balm. Matthew’s piano is gorgeously peaceful in its emotion, and the bass solo of Reynolds tells a tale of its own. This piece is masterfully done and has a cleansing quality about it. This song is a classic in the making.
On track number five Matthew exhibits his ability to accompany a singer on the song I Thought about you. On this piece, the quintet of Matthew/piano, Christian McBride/bass, Scott Mayo/sax, and will Calhoun/drums, accompany singer Melissa Walker of this Jimmy Ban Heusen composition with lyrics by the great Johnny Mercer.
Matthew’s piano leads the band and sets the groove that is instantly picked up my Jazz master McBride, and the rest of the bandmates. The five seamlessly weave this nice tune with the fine fabric of virtuosity, and the mellow silky voice of Melissa. The secret to playing a standard is to give homage to the history of the song without sounding trite, while at the same time putting your own flavor into the mix. These five do it effortlessly with a subtle flair that draws the listener in. It’s a fantastic rendition of an old favorite that’s fit for the palates of a new generation. Well done.
Track number seven is called Take A Break, and it’s appropriately titled because on it Matthew takes a break from the jazz norm and explores the funky side of smooth jazz in impressive fashion. On it he’s accompanied by a horn section of Francisco Torres/trombone, Scott Mayo/Saxes, and Javier Gonzales/ Trumpet. The group is rounded with Phil Hamilton/Guitar, and Artie Reynolds/Bass, with Pudge Tribbett on Drums.
The tune begins with a four-beat piano fanfare and slides into a groove that is funky and soulful. It has a danceable beat, and a hard, funky bassline. Muted horns augment the song and are unmuted at times for emphasis. It’s a very thoughtful jam that exhibits Matthew’s thoughtful expert piano playing. This young man has all the tools of his craft, and welds them with the touch of a surgeon. He’s remarkable in his ability, and one can only eagerly hope for more of what he has to offer in the future.
The next two tracks features Matthew on his favorite instrument (and one of my favorites, as well), the Hammond B3 Organ. I’ll limit my comments to track number eight (for brevity sake). It’s a tune written by Lonnie Smith entitled Back Track. This was the very first song I had heard Matthew play, and I love it every time I hear it. The song features a measured beat that allows the musicians to stretch out and explore the tune, and let the listeners float along on streams of a mellow soulful groove that is explored by solos from Sax, guitar and finally organ.
This unhurried tune drifts along in a mood that is relaxed and contemplative. The song artistically uses the dynamic device of rising and swelling dramatically to a crescendo after each solo, and then it settles back down to the groove. Matthew’s solos feature clichés from various classic hit tunes that give a nod to the name of the song. The song finally builds to a final crescendo and ends the smooth ride on a high note. This song is a highlight of this album, and leaves the listener wanting to hear more of Matthew on the Hammond B3. How about an entire album’s worth?
The final song of the album is entitled Until Next Time, and on it Matthew shows his chops on the classic Smooth Jazz genre. He exhibits a versatility that any musician would covet. On this track Matthew shows off his ability to play the genre with the best of them, composing and arranging the tune himself as well. He shows that he’s a student of the music and an avid listener. This song is cool and mellow. Featuring solos by guitarist Dave Stryker, and trombonist Clifton Anderson, and features a synthesizer play by Ray Chew. Matthew’s own solo is soulful, dramatic, and musical. This is a very nice tune. He has effectively schooled himself in all areas of jazz with equal enthusiasm and ability. If you didn’t know this was Matthew Whitaker on this track, you’d guess it was any of the fine pianist within that genre. He plays it that well. This is a fitting end to a spectacular LP, and a must buy for any enthusiast; Matthew is definitely on my short list of artists that I must see live. Go get this one!
Well, I’ve talked long enough. I thank you all again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my article. I’d like to encourage you all to take a break occasionally and go out and hear some live music. There’s really nothing like it, and it’s important to support our local artists and jazz clubs.
Please remember to come out and jam with N-Motion Entertainment. We’re Pittsburgh’s number one entertainment group, and we always put on a good show. Make sure you check out our “White Party” coming in July. It’s always a top-notch event, and everyone has a good time. Keep a lookout for the date on our website.
And on next week’s edition of the “Corner” I’ll be talking about a group appropriately called “4 Korners”. I look forward to reviewing them and your reading the article.
Thanks again for your time. Please feel free to leave your thoughts and comments in the space provided, and remember, Next time, “Catch You On the Corner”!
Three the Remarkable Way
December 11, 2018 Mid-summer Magic 2018
There are times in the music world when a group of iconoclastic artists transform a genre into the new sound of their generation, a sound that is not only heard, but experienced as well. Initially, the combination of artists when first announced may seem an unlikely mix at best or a gag at worst, but, after all is said and done, the resulting work turns out to be a thing of sheer beauty and supreme artistry. This summer’s seemingly odd entry into multiple musical genres is the Amazon Music produced and released album August Greene, and it is just such a work. It’s the offspring, the ethereal offering, of 3 great stand-alone artists; world renowned rapper Common; highly accomplished veteran jazz drummer, rapper, producer Karriem Riggins; and superstar jazz and neo-soul pianist Robert Glasper Jr! Their collaboration has produced one of the most conceptually unshackled masterpieces of the year.
The complexity and beauty of thought and expression grafted onto this vinyl is the evidence of the years of labor, love and living that these men have poured into their respective crafts. A lot of the album may not be considered light weight listening (although it is easy on the ears), but this piece is an autobiographic encyclopedia of the lives lived by these men, and their story is sonically written in the eleven chapters of this musical tome. The mood of this LP is at times melancholy, but the mood never weighs the listener down, instead that mood is used to draw the listener in; particularly via the energy and lyrics expressed by Common. This body of work showcases the interesting life lived and the maturity garnered thereby that Common embodies and shares with his audience. He shines on this LP, and August Greene would not be what it is without him.
Each track is worthy of examination and comment, but I will leave that up to the listener to explore. I have picked a few of the tracks to examine and write about just as an taste of what can be expected from what I believe is a ground-breaking offering. Let me say here that for some reason this album reminds me of another ground-breaking masterpieces conceived by Miles Davis; “Kind of Blue”. That too was a melancholy body of work and, as I believe this album will emulate, Kind of Blue changed the landscape of jazz music for more than a decade. This album has that same potential. This album is a jazz album, but it’s more than that; It’s a hip-hop masterpiece, and a R&B soon to be classic as well. This LP will be talked about for a long time, and I, for one, am expecting some noise from this work during the awards season in February of 2019 (can anyone say “Grammy”?).
Meditation is the first cut on this winner. This short track sets the tone for the entire album, and aside from the mellow mood that is set by the music, Common’s urgent voice and solid cerebral rap takes the listener exactly where this trio wants them to go. This song is just a tease of what lies etched within the lines of the LP (or encoded on the CD). You are being taken on a journey, and although it may seem a bit foreboding, you know you’re going to learn something along the way, and the anticipation of what is waiting ahead elicits excitement and anticipation. Don’t worry, you won’t be disappointed. Welcome to the “well of the black pool of genius”!
Robert Glasper Jr.
On this cut the listener gets a view of what will be heard and experienced on the whole body of work. Common does the vocals, Robert is on Acoustic piano, Kerriem is on drums, and the mellotron synthesizer is played by Somora Pinderhuges. The mix of musicians and music at times seem to produce a feeling of voidness and desolation but it is simultaneously accompanied by an evasive sense of hope. This type of emoting can only be produced by artists of the highest order. These players are seasoned and in touch with who they are as people and as artists. Their transparency allows the listener to experience the music in an organic way. It’s as though the listener is experiencing the emotion directly. This is the hallmark of great artists. They allow you to feel what they felt as they created the work.
The next song on the Disc is titled Black Kennedy. The players on this cut are the same as on Meditation except that Pinderhuges is doing the lead vocals on this track instead of using the Mellotron. The mood of this song is subdued but lighter than a lot of the album. Common’s lyrics are autobiographic and revealing; he tells about his upbringing and his thoughts on his life. Robert and Karriem hold down the melody and beat expertly, and the bass of Burniss Travis is mellow and cool. The three deliver a smooth funky groove that allows Common to pontificate freely. He spit out his rap with a smooth verbal dexterity that accentuates the beat and feel. This jam is a beautiful ride with the top down; just like Somora P. sings in the song. You can almost experience the convertible cruising the city under the streetlamps on a warm summer’s night.
Fly Away is the fifth song on this CD. In many ways it’s the most autobiographic song on the CD for Commo. He raps of his lost loves, and his feeling of being trapped by his own self-destructive tendencies and how they cost him to sabotage his own love affairs. In fact, in many ways, this is the most intimate encounter with Common on this album. Here he’s at his most vulnerable and most honest. You see the humanity of Common in a way that is surprisingly personal. That takes courage and humility, but after all, that’s what real artist do. But what also sets this track apart from most of the CD is the use of the strings near the end of the track; they are absolutely beautiful! I’m nor sure if they are synthesized or real, but they are credited as the product of Patrick Warren, and he does a superb job. The strings take this song to another level and lend to it a sense of transcendence and romance lost. Also, I’d be remiss if I did not mention the vocals of Samora Pinderhughes again. He sets the tone off initially with his voice, and he adds his overdubbed harmonies near the end that enhance the mood in a poignant fashion. This is a gem of a song.
The eight song is one of my favorites on this album of favorites. It’s the hardest jam on this piece and Common absolutely RIPS this song! He kills it! No Apologies is Common at his best. He holds nothing back and sets is completely off! If you thought Common had lost it then he proves that you are completely wrong. The man is just plain old BAD! I tell you now, that this jam will find itself on my weight lifting playlist. It’s hard and It’s relevant. This is one of those cuts that makes this album the complete package. Plus, that band rips it too. They feed off one another in a frenzy of sound and energy, and this song lets you know that this project was not just a good idea by some stellar music artists, but this project was meant to be; it was no mistake; it had to be done, and it was done in a fashion that will leave a mark on the musical landscape for some time to come. I am not going to talk too much about who is playing what or who wrote what, I just advise you to listen. Listening will tell you all you need to know. Enough said!
Song number ten is an old favorite of mine and many others as well; Optimistic, the old “Sounds of Blackness” hit. On this cut Brandy, (one my favorite singers because of the love for her that my daughters have; Cinderella ), does the heavy lifting, and she is just as beautiful as she always was, and her voice is just as beautiful too. This jam is just as uplifting and inspirational as the original and it is a palate cleanser from all the heaviness of the rest of the album. This track, after all, is the only danceable song on the album and it’s beautifully done. The version that is linked to this article has some extra musical improvisational footage that I wish was on the album, but the album version is a standalone complete package, so nothing is really lost. And, of course, Common is the common denominator on this tune as he is on the entire LP. He sets a rap off that adds to the song in a fashion that makes is seem as though its always been there. The rap is as relevant and uplifting as the song itself is. To further cap off this marvelous rendition of this song is the video that accompanies it. It enhances everything that this song encompasses and brings the meaning of the song to the eyes as well as the ears. This is another hallmark of artists at work. True artists use whatever media that is available to communicate the reality of their surrounding in a way that is not just experienced through the five senses, but that if also felt in the mind of heart of the observer. August Green is just such a canvas.
Well, I think I’ve said enough. As you can probably guess, I give this LP a big “Thumbs Up”. Go get this one and enjoy it. To be honest, this was one of the most difficult reviews I have ever done. Not only because of the tremendous workload I’ve been under as of late, but also because of the tremendous weight of the material I have reviewed on this CD. An album like this is a workload in itself to talk about. There is a lot going on here, and to reflect upon it takes considerable thought and emotional digestion. The players and contributors put a lot of themselves into this piece and it shows. It’s not always an easy listen, but it’s worth the effort. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve listen to this album, but it has been a part of my life for about a month, and, yes, I’d do it again.
I’d like to thank any and all of you for taking the time to read this article. As with all of the things I write, it has been a labor of love. I’d also like to thank my boss and N-Motion CEO Shawn Hopson for being patient with me during this transition to our new site. Shawn is the reason why this site looks so good, and his labor of love is greatly appreciated.
In the near future we (N-Motion Entertainment) hope to bring many more national acts to the area, and, of course, God willing, I hope to be there to report on them. And, as much as in me is, I hope to report on music of interest right here on “Brian’s Corner”. Thank you all again, for your patience and your readership. Please feel free to leave comments in the section provided. I promise to respond as time permits.
Please enjoy the upcoming holiday season, and remember, Next time, “Catch You on The Corner”.
B. B. Suber
Yellow Jackets – Raising Our Voice
YellowJackets / Raising Our Voice
Stung by the Jazz Bug
October 22, 2018 New Release Series
The Yellowjackets first appeared on the music scene in 1977. They were initially brought together by guitarist Robben Ford for a recording session of his; they included current member Russell Ferrante on Piano, Jimmy Haslip on bass guitar, and Ricky Lawson on drums. Four years later (1981), they produced their first album as a band; the album was aptly named “Yellowjackets”, and at that time they were a jazz fusion band. Through the past four decades the band has gone through many iterations and member changes. A few of the past members included Terri Lynn Carrington, Felix Pastorius and Michael Landau. The band has also transitioned from fusion to jazz to smooth jazz to quasi R&B, and back again. This current album is the twenty seventh album produced by the band, and the current members are Russell Ferrante – Piano and Keyboards; Bob Mintzer – Saxophones; William Kennedy-drums; Dane Alserson – bass; and this album also features Luciana Souza doing the vocals.
The YJ’s brand-new album Raising Our Voice may have only been released a few weeks prior to the writing of this article (it was released on September 14, 2018), but the timelessness of the material contained on that CD makes it seem as though it’s been around for years. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no staleness or datedness at play here, it’s just that the sound and feel of this album gives an odd sense of familiarity to the new. This album is a mix of smooth jazz, jazz fusion, and straight-ahead jazz. The album has a subdued warm sound that is calming and relaxing without being drowsy. It’s a heady album at times, but there are instances where the beat and feel are up-tempo. It’s a complex album that manifests areas of mystery and beauty, as well as areas of lightness and frivolity. It’s a great mixture of textures that helps keep the listeners’ ears peaked.
The album opens with the song Man Facing North , and yeah, it’s an odd name for a song, but when you listen to it the title seems to fit the feel of the track. The song begins with the singer and bassist singing in unison; the singer sings only notes, notes that are played simultaneously by the bass player. She sings no words at all; in fact, Luciana sings only notes throughout the entire song, sometimes with the bass player, and at other times with the sax player; the effect strikingly surreal. This produces a somewhat lonely vibe that carries a stark sense of barrenness, just like a solitary guy facing north. But it’s the drummer that is used to ground the song and wipe away the stark feel of the tune. The drummer, Will Kennedy, somehow produces an up-tempo drive that balances the melancholy feel of the material. It makes for extremely interesting listening.
Bob Mintzer’s sax is lovely and compelling and gives a hint of what follows. After a brief back and forth with sax solo followed by Luciana, and back again, Dana Anderson plays his delicious bass solo which is followed by the sax singing in unison with Luciana. The two of them soar together in a symbiotic dance that enchants the listener. The feel that the two of them convey in this song sets the listener in a place where relaxation and contemplation meet, all the while Russ Ferrante’s piano play grounds the entire band into the theme of the original melody. There is a lot happening musically and it takes a listen or two to get all of it. This is a great song, and a first-rate way to kick off an excellent album. After listening to this tune, the jazz lover in me cannot wait to see what else lies in store on this CD.
The third song on the CD is titled Everyone Else is Taken. This is a cute song that screams of Vince Guaraldi. You can almost see Linus, Lucy and Snoopy coming out to play. No, it’s not a rip off of a song by Vince, but it is his signature style of repeating a counterpoint arpeggio theme throughout the entire song. It’s cute and very listenable, and it seems as though Vince has not only made his impact on multiple generations of kids via his Christmas special, but his body of work has left an impact on many musicians as well. Russ Ferrante begins the ode to Vince with his piano; his technique is remarkable, and his sound is bright and airy. Russ is obviously and apt pupil, and has studied Vince well; But who could blame him? When anyone does anything as well as Vince Guaraldi did they deserve to be immortalized in the hearts and styles of those who come along after him. Russ’ playing is fantastic; he displays a dexterity of fingers and mind, and his feel for what sounds good is spot on. Russ begins the song solo as he lays down his intricate counterpoint, and the song builds upon that theme.
Once again on this song, Luciana voice and Bob Mintzer’s sax sing in a compelling unison. The effect it light, airy, and extremely easy on the ear. Will Kennedy’s drum gives an interesting and punctuated counterpoint, and some very good cymbal work, and Dane Alderson’s bass is superb!
The eight song is titled Quiet. This song is a slow beautiful ode sung by Luciana in real live language. She begins in a Romance language (one I don’t understand unfortunately) supported only by piano, bass and intermittent percussion. She then switches to English, and then back again. Slowly Bob Mintzer’s sax enters in and serenades beautifully. This song slowly and quietly builds, but it never boils. It stays true to the title, and the constant quiet feel. Slowly as Luciana and saxophone harmonize to a dramatic hushed silence that sax joins in again and speaks. This song is so well done. The Yellowjackets demonstrate what all the years of playing has taught them. They tell stories with notes, melodies, and intermittent silence. Great musicians allow space/silence to help tell a story better than a thousand notes could ever do. It’s remarkable!
The last song I will talk about is the 10th song of this 13th song CD; it’s titled Brotherly. The song was written by bassist Dane Alderson, and his composition skills show a remarkable knowledge and respect for jazz fusion of the early 1970, and 1980s. It is a respectful emulation of the genre, but it is in no way a mere knockoff. This song has the feel of jazz fusion through and through, and a respect for what has already been done. It has an asymmetric time signature, and an epic feel, and it tells a story. This song is an adventure; an adventure for the listening and the imagination. It’s everything Jazz Fusion was and is known for; the different, and the adventurous. Just the four musicians play on this one. Luciana is given a rest here, and the instrumentalists are given the floor. What they come up with is that epic Jazz fusion story telling that only bands of this caliber can communicate. What amazes me is the way four individuals can get on a vibe in such a way that they seem to have one mind. This type of interplay and musical interpretation comes only with musicianship of the highest order and familiarity of a long-standing band. They know one another. They have played together for so long that they become a well-oiled machine, or a team of athletes that knows one another’s moves so well that they can pass the ball to a spot without looking and they know that their teammate will be there to receive the pass. This is the definition of a team, and the music is their shining glory. This song is classic and may well live up to other songs in the genre that have preceded it.
There are thirteen songs on this album, and I cannot write about all of them; that would bore me and the reader to tears. But what I can do is tell you, the reader, to check this one out for yourselves. This is a good, if not great album. The Yellowjackets are a venerated band with a long history. This album shows that they have yet to complete their tale; a “must” listen to for any serious fan of the genre.
Well, I’ve come to the end of this review and this has been another fun one for me. If you hadn’t noticed, I only review albums that I like; if I don’t like them, I won’t write about them, so it’s pretty easy for me to have something good to say about the music featured on “the Corner”. This is fun and has been a fun ride for me. I really enjoy writing about great music and great artists. I’ve written about so many artist and music in the past year, that now I must buy another computer with a larger memory. I hope to continue with this article for years to come, and I have the readers to thank for the energy I receive.
I want to give everyone a heads-up on what is coming down the pipe. We will soon be launching our new online venue. It has a lot of new and exiting features. I don’t want to give away too much but keep a lookout for it in the not too distant future. Also, we will soon welcome back the new and improved N-Mo Jazz search engine, a revised “Brian’s Corner”, and other new aspects of community service we are becoming involved with. As 2018 winds down, 2019 appears to be a new horizon for N-Motion. We hope you all will continue with us and help us better serve you and the greater community.
Thanks again for stopping by and reading this article. Give us feedback when you can. And we will keep you abreast of any of our upcoming concerts. Thanks you all, and next time, “Catch You on the Corner”!
- B. Suber