Label: Sunnyside Records, 2019
Personnel - Gerald Clayton: piano; Larry Grenadier: double bass; Matt Slocum: drums.
Minnesota-born, Wisconsin-raised, New Jersey-based drummer Matt Slocum favors a low-key style that, seeming bashful at times, it’s far from being uncommunicative. His solid chops and thoughtful markings are always conducted in aid of the collective, often bringing out the best on his bandmates, which, in the present case, is the old pal and frequent associate, pianist Gerald Clayton, and ingenious bassist Larry Grenadier, who records for the very first time with the drummer.
The 10-track Sanctuary marks his fifth release as a leader and features all original compositions, except “Romulus”, a song composed by multi-instrumentalist Sufjan Stevens, where the mellifluous brushwork maintains the pressure low. Originally a 3/4 indie pop song with a dash of folk, this piece brings forth a magnetic, melody-centered bass statement before a waltzing pulsation takes place. It will later veer into a temperate snare-driven 4/4 spell whose lightly groovy effect impels Clayton to improvise with extraordinary pronunciation. The initial valse is then resumed with the trio at its lyrical best, having Grenadier delineating another euphonious statement at the conclusion.
Resulting from a reharmonization of Irving Berlin’s “The Best Thing For You”, “Consolidation Prize” begins as a rhythmically loose post-bop ride, departing definitely to an uptempo swinging flow that is later disrupted by a bouncing bass solo. The bandleader corroborates his temperate activity by phrasing with nuanced sensitivity. Influences of the past are visible on this tune, whose harmonically richness is akin to Bill Evans and Alan Broadbent.
The Chopin-inspired “Aspen Island” boasts utterly romantic moments in its feathery narrative, but not without some sadness hidden in-between the lines. If swaths of composure, self-control, and pathos can be found a bit everywhere, both “A Dissolving Alliance” and “Sanctuary” take them further. While the former advocates sparse, pensive, and lugubrious rumination with the tension stemming from bowed bass and influent chord extensions, the latter is deliberately musing in tone.
Contradicting this mood is “Days of Peace”, where we find the trio crafting a smooth harmonic path, whose velvety textures cause the improvisers to stretch out with joy and optimism. Slocum and Grenadier trade bars, showing a remarkable, intimate rapport if we consider that this session was recorded after one single rehearsal. “Anselmo” closes out the album with an ambitious spirit, disseminating vitality through the bass/drums linkage. Named after a key character in Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom The Bell Tolls, this piece is pretty active, yet never frantic or particularly tense.
Leaning on cogitation, this generous album unpacks the kind of infatuation that grows with multiple listenings, providing us with a rich territory to explore.
01 - Romulus ► 02 - Consolidation Prize ► 08 – Anselmo