One important measure of any musical scene is whether it sustains its energy and depth. The Chicago jazz and improvised music scene has endured plenty of defections in recent years, such as guitarist Jeff Parker decamping to Los Angeles or cornetist Rob Mazurek relocating to Marfa, Texas—serious blows to the community here—but things keep rolling on even as tastes shift. A steady stream of new players has long been crucial to giving Chicago its artistic potency, and the best of those players inject enough personality and creativity to push things in new directions. I've been noticing a new wave of players in the last couple of years who are doing just that, whether it's the piano trio Rooms or the guitarist Tim Stine. More recently I've been made aware of the pianist Matt Piet, who grew up in Palos Park; six months ago I'd never heard of him, but now I can't stop listening to the new recording with a trio featuring bassist Albert Wildeman and drummer Julian Kirshner that he released today.
Of Sound Mind (Amalgam Music) is a fully improvised session, but the performances are clearly rooted in jazz. All three musicians give the work a hearty sense of propulsion, and Piet is a melodic player, but his tunefulness is thrillingly shaken by a rhythmic volatility and a fractal sense of phrasing. I'll admit I was a bit skeptical when I saw the cover shot, which pictures Piet, hand on chin in a pose of self-conscious contemplation, but the music has kept me coming back, reminding me of the quicksilver attack of Cecil Taylor's music in the late 50s and early 60s. The trio is exceptionally loose and nimble, moving with impressive agility and responsiveness. It's doubly exciting to hear a new pianist locally; apart from veterans like Jim Baker and Paul Giallorenzo, as well as Rooms keyboardist Dan Pierson, Chicago's improvised music scene feels chronically short of pianists. The entire album is a treat, but below you can check out a piece called "The Dr. Will See You Now," which contains a beguiling range of attacks, moving from a wobbly ballad feel at the start to a torrent of tumbling motion, with plenty of asides and explosions in between.
Reviewed by Peter Margasak for the Chicago Reader
Also reviewed by Budd Kopman at All About Jazz
The debut trio record is a seemingly necessary milestone in the coming of age of a jazz pianist. This transition from “sideman” to leader has traditionally been the way of showcasing the individuality of a nascent artist’s work. Of Sound Mind is my attempt at presenting such a statement. I have long been in hiding from the public, developing my approach to improvisation out of earshot, alone in the practice room. Over the years my method of playing has developed from a straight-ahead jazz approach to almost exclusively free improvisation. I have aimed to deviate from traditional idiomatic jazz styles and find an improvisational voice of my own. Much of this involves working with the flow of energy at the keyboard, developing fragmented lines and tone clusters that operate outside of tonality and metric time. It has also been important to me to improvise with new players to maximize the spontaneity of each creative endeavor. Of Sound Mind was created with this framework in mind. I knew I admired the superlative playing of Albert Wildeman on bass and Julian Kirshner on drums. I trusted their spontaneous creative input implicitly. The three of us had no prior discussion regarding the music we would make, and my hope is that the resulting document is as free of preconceptions as possible. Paul Bley has been a major influence on the way I approach improvisation, and the way I approach the piano. His classic record 1963 “Footloose!” in particular was an influence on Of Sound Mind. It is his first mature trio outing as a leader, and I wanted this record to have the same kind of energy and make a similar statement. The way that Paul Bley spun improvised lines that don’t “swing” in a conventional way, but carry with them a vital energy, is what makes “Footloose!” so unique. I owe a lot to Paul Bley, as well as Cecil Taylor, Misha Mengelberg, Alexander von Schlippenbach, and Craig Taborn. However, I do hope that this record stands out as the first mature statement of my career as an improvising pianist. I hope that the listener derives as much pleasure from listening to this recording as I did making it.
- Matt Piet
Matt Piet - Piano
Albert Wildeman - Bass
Julian Kirshner - Drums
Improvised live on June 14, 2016
at Bel Air Sound Studio, Chicago IL
Engineered & recorded by Todd Carter.
Mixed & mastered by Bill Harris.
Art & design by Ken Ge.