“By a Little Light” – THE BUZZ!
Press is rolling in for Matt Ulery’s latest album, By A Little Light.
Many thanks to Howard Reich at the Chicago Tribune for his kind words.
“This magical, profoundly musical release embraces more aesthetic influences than one might
have thought a cohesive recording could. …the originality and purling beauty of this release
cannot be overstated.”
Another thoughtful review at Bird Is The Worm.
“Nothing about this music is small. Even the nuances possess a weight that belies their brief
moments in the spotlight. Piano is given lots of room to roam and explore, while drums stamp it
on the map. When not gingerly tiptoeing through the scene, strings make dreamy
pronouncements, while vibes and trumpet shade the edges.”
At eMusic, Dave Sumner weighs in and gives By A Little Light the PICK OF THE WEEK status.
“a masterpiece of grand vision and soaring compositions. Built around two separate piano trios,
Ulery adds violinist Zach Brock, vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, and members of the Eighth
Blackbird ensemble for a spectacular set of music. Pick of the Week.”
And to top all that off, By A Little Light received 4 1/2 stars in the July issue of Downbeat.
“Two beautiful, emotional works…There are no cheap musical tricks or shortcuts here; “By A
Little Light”… are fully formed pieces that embrace a range of musical styles.”
“Music, as a true form of artistic expression, benefits from a wide variety of influences; the more
influences, the more interesting the combinations become. Chicago-based jazz bassist and
composer Matt Ulery fully understands that concept, and continues the exploration of his various
influences on his latest solo effort By A Little Light.”
- UTNE READER
Reliable weekly residents aside, the
Green Mill occasionally opens its
doors to more unorthodox fare via two
Sunday matinees, one for jazz
composers and another for
contemporary classical. It’s hard to
say which would suit Matt Ulery best.
He’s helming a coveted weekend
night slot, which makes the question
moot, but also speaks to the Chicago
native’s growing pull, be it with the
tender chamber-jazz honed in his
combo Loom, or the Balkan-imbued
workouts reveled in as a member of
Eastern Blok. He’s set the bar ever
higher on his latest, By a Little Light, a
sweeping double album that speaks to
his eclectic appetite as much as his
ambition, alternating between bucolic
themes and more ominous motifs.
A piano trio anchors Ulery’s
elegant, stylistic patchwork, which
channels everything from
Rachmaninoff to Radiohead. Lush,
cinematic instrumental passages are
woven throughout the first half, while
disc two coalesces around the cool, dry
voice of local vocal chanteuse Grazyna
Auguscik, whose entrance on
“Somebody Somewhere” conjures the
ghost of Leonard Bernstein.
Auguscik, members of eighth
blackbird and Loom are among the
album guests joining Ulery as he
steeps the Mill in his stirring pastiche,
a sound big enough to fill even the
expansive Uptown Theatre next door.
Though unlike that long dormant hall,
this music is tailor-made to feel
timeless.—Areif Sless-Kitain – Time Out Chicago
Lately Chicago bassist, bandleader, and composer Matt Ulery has been branching out from his
foundation in jazz, not only by drawing on other traditions and approaches—film scores,
chamber music, eastern European folk, indie rock—but also by assembling ensembles that do
away with improvisation almost entirely. That shift has never been clearer than on the new
double CD By a Little Light (his first release on Greenleaf, the label owned by trumpeter Dave
Douglas). There’s hardly any soloing at all—the title track, a trio number, is the only one with
any significant solo space, which pianist Ben Lewis uses to bust out some serious Ellingtonian
splendor. Most of the pieces are in fact entirely composed, down to the last note. Ulery enlisted
four members of Chicago’s Eighth Blackbird, in addition to regular collaborators such as
drummer Jon Deitemyer, violinist Zach Brock, and trumpeter James Davis, to bring life to his
cinematic arrangements. Several pieces on the first disc feature plucky string arrangements, with
precise, glossy articulation and either the rhythmic vitality of Romany music or the minimalist
churn of Philip Glass. On disc two, all but one track has singing—mostly by Grazyna Auguscik,
whose phrasing has a jazzy elasticity. Ulery himself steps to the mike on “Broken and Blinded,”
and his slightly quavery, imperfect singing brings with it the emotional vulnerability of indie
rock. For these concerts he’ll play revamped arrangements of music from the album along with
newer work, supported by Deitemyer, Davis, Auguscik, pianist Rob Clearfield, and several
members of Eighth Blackbird: flutist Tim Munro, cellist Nicholas Photinos, clarinetist Michael
Maccaferri, and violinist and violist Yvonne Lam. —Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
It’s only June, but one of the most hauntingly beautiful recordings of this year – or any other
– already stands out. Chicago bassist-bandleader Matt Ulery has turned in strong work before, whether leading his
band Loom or collaborating with the Polish singer Grazyna Auguscik, who’s based here.
Ulery’s double album “By a Little Light,” however, represents a new high point for him and an
important gesture in redefining what jazz recordings can be. For this exquisitely subtle recording
embraces Western classical music, American minimalism and Eastern European folkloric idioms
– among others – even as it’s suffused with the rhythmic impulse and experimental spirit of jazz.
• Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
Really, there’s nothing quite like “By a Little Light” (Greenleaf Music), in which Ulery’s jazz
rhythm section collaborates with members of the contemporary music ensemble eighth blackbird
and others. ”It’s hard with this kind of project – it doesn’t really fit anywhere specific,” says Ulery,
acknowledging the impossible-to-categorize nature of this venture (he’ll lead a jazz-and-classical
nonet Friday and Saturday at the Green Mill).
“As a bass player and a writer, sometimes I feel that I need to make certain projects that I do fit
in more places.”
“By a Little Light,” however, fits into no category easily identified in record stores, promoted by
jazz festivals or nurtured in jazz clubs. Which is part of its appeal. This music seems to float
from one lyric phrase to another, Ulery’s uncommonly sensitive ear for color evident in the way
he writes for glockenspiel and marimba, cello and chimes, bass clarinet and alto flute and other
The original compositions vary greatly in tempo and tone, but each sounds texturally transparent,
melodically inspired and harmonically unexpected.
So how did Ulery hit on this unlikely music? Essentially, he summed up the far-flung genres he
has been exploring in recent years. Or perhaps it’s more precise to say he crystallized particular
sounds that have captured his imagination, finding new ways of fusing them.
“I’ve been playing in a band called Eastern Blok for almost 10 years now,” says Ulery, of a band
that includes Chicago guitarist Goran Ivanovic, a native of Croatia.
“We originally focused on Balkan folk music, but at this point we play mostly original music,
and I write most of it. We’ve discovered Eastern European folk music together.
“I’ve come to love a lot of that music. It’s in me now.”
But that’s just the starting point for “By a Little Light.” Ulery’s fascination with European
folkloric music led him to study scores of Sergei Rachmaninoff and Frederic Chopin, as well as
music of the Hungarian film composer Miklos Rosza.
All these influences come together almost seamlessly in “By a Little Light.”
“Also, some of the minimalist composers – the obvious ones,” says Ulery, no doubt referring to
Philip Glass and Steve Reich (no relation to me).
“And I can’t escape my roots of grunge music and punk rock. One of the tunes, ‘Processional,’ I
actually wrote for (violinist) Zach Brock’s wedding processional. That was almost directly
inspired by a Kurt Cobain song – a Nirvana song, or many of them. Not melodies or chords, but
some of the gestures. You probably can’t hear it, but it – whatever it takes for me to get started
(composing). I listen to anything, then take the needle off the record.”
Actually, Ulery is doing more than that to hone his craft. In addition to the various bands he leads
and performs in, he’s pursuing a master’s degree from DePaul University’s School of Music,
which has to make him one of the more accomplished students on campus.
“The school thing, I don’t talk about it that much,” says Ulery. “It’s like part of my day, two days
a week. I feel good about doing it. It’s kind of strange to me to be there, but … I want to be able
to be a musician in all the ways that are possible, including someday maybe teaching at a higher
In truth, Ulery already is teaching us quite a bit about ignoring conventional stylistic barriers and
pursuing a singular artistic vision.
Considering that after the Green Mill engagement he’ll be offering an expanded version of “By a
Little Light” during the “Made in Chicago” jazz series at Millennium Park on Aug. 16, this music
appears to be opening new pathways for him. The composer says he has written additional scores
along these lines, and the critical accolades that are coming his way – including a recent, glowing
review in DownBeat – can only help.
Matt Ulery’s music looms large on modern horizon and at Green Mill this weekend
As I wrote in part one of this post, the parade of CD-release gigs starring local artists continues
this weekend, with vocalist-guitarist Frank D’Rone at the Jazz Showcase. Click here for my
review of his new album “Double Exposure”; at 80, he still sounds hale and hearty.
There’s a half-century span between D’Rone and bassist-composer Matt Ulery, who turned 30
just this past December. There’s also a continental drift between their musics. In fact, except for
Ulery’s rhythm section – and in particular, the startlingly adept piano solos by Ben Lewis – I
wonder how many dyed-in-the-wool fans would even use the term jazz to describe Ulery’s
Any such questions, or even debates, have a marvelously cogent and cohesive centerpiece in
Ulery’s new double-disc “By A Little Light” (Greenleaf Music), compositions from which fill
his CD-release sets this weekend at the Green Mill (Lawrence & Broadway). Working with a
chamber-orchestra palette and a growing confidence in his own compositions – as traced by two
earlier albums from his group Loom – he has crafted a dozen pieces of guarded emotion and lush
(not plush) timbres and textures.
Despite his relative youth, Ulery has an extensive background in Chicago jazz, both as a valued
sideman as well as with his own groups. So jazz quite naturally plays a role in these fully-fledged
compositions. But so do a half-dozen other notable idioms.
So while it’s not exactly jazz, it’s not quite pop, either – despite the pointed use of vocals and
choir-like textures. You wouldn’t call it indie- or post-rock, although it shares plenty of those
forms’ aesthetic. Neither would you call it classical, despite the clear influence of that genre, as
well as the presence throughout the album of Chicago’s ace new-music classical ensemble,
(Several of the “blackbirds” – including violinist Yvonne Lam and cellist Nicholas Photinhos –
will join Ulery at the Mill, as will vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, who appears on two tracks and in
whose bands Ulery often plays. Lewis, the album’s pianist, is not on the bill; the unenviable job
of filling his shoes goes to Rob Clearfield, but he has more than enough imagination, and plenty
of chops on his own, to handle the job.)
Even Ulery’s jazz” comes with qualifications. His writing constitutes a sort of “alt-jazz”
sensibility, in the same way that alternative country and indie-rock prismatize and refocus the
genres on which they’re based. The music makes room for some extended improvisation: “Dark
Harvest,” the tango-derived opening track, showcases Lewis’s brilliant solo abilities, as do
“Wilder Years” and a couple of others. But the solos constitute another compositional element,
rather than the music’s raison d’être (as in more conventional jazz performances).
Several of the tunes have the feel of soundtrack music in search of a movie: the melodic flow of
“The Miniaturist” recalls for me the music of Mark Snow, who composed music for “The XFiles,”
while other tracks suggest such divergent models as film composers John Barry and
Howard Shore; “Processional” contains distinct shards of Philip Glass. (A previous album of
Ulery’s, “Themes and Scenes,” comprised orchestral compositions inspired by film scores.)
It all makes for an object lesson in the oft-cited difficulty of assigning labels to music. The album
comes with the strong imprimatur of modern-music renaissance man Dave Douglas (the
trumpeter, composer, festival producer, and Greenleaf Music co-founder), and he ignores labels
entirely in writing, “I am most impressed by the pure emotion captured on this recording. [It] is
an outpouring of feeling.”
Don’t get me wrong: the fact that “By A Little Light” is something “other” doesn’t invalidate it
by any means. I mention these labels primarily as a way describing what the music is — which in
this case, seems to mostly involve saying what it isn’t. And certainly, the craftsmanship and
ensemble complexity of jazz have left their mark on Ulery’s writing throughout.
But in Loom, Ulery had clearly set his sights on something else, and with “By A Little Light,” he
has expanded his gaze to cover a wider landscape than many jazz artists ever envision.
Thankfully, from my perspective, he has populated the scene with some spectacular improvising;
it provides an aleatoric detail to his grand design.
The result is a large and maybe even important album, and hearing the music on stage this
weekend should provide more than a little light – and a fair amount of heat.
Matt Ulery performs three sets each night, starting at 9 Friday and at 8 Saturday, at the Green
Mill in Uptown.
Neil Tesser - Chicago Jazz Music Examiner
Matt Ulery’s ‘By a Little Light’ glows at the Green Mill
July 2, 2012
Even listeners already familiar with Chicago bassist Matt Ulery’s alluring new double-CD, “By a
Little Light,” had to be struck by how this music sounds in concert.
Yes, the recording faithfully documents the tonal glow that Ulery and a chamber-sized ensemble
of jazz and classical players achieve in his radiantly lyrical compositions. But to hear Ulery’s
unusual scoring in the flesh is to attain heightened admiration for what he has created.
Playing to an attentive crowd Saturday night at the Green Mill Jazz Club, Ulery presented a
nonet version of these works, featuring a vocalist, jazz rhythm section (though Ulery does not
use it as such) and strings and winds from the Chicago contemporary classical ensemble eighth
blackbird. Not precisely the instrumentation on the recording, which also features the sweetly
ringing sounds of vibraphone, glockenspiel and marimba, but close enough.
Even in slightly altered form, the concert version of “By a Little Light” brought forth deep-amber
tonal shadings and luxuriant ensemble textures that no recording could duplicate.
Consider what happened when Ulery’s nonet performed “Gone as it Always Was,” the finale of
the double album and the closer of Saturday night’s first set. On disc, this cut – and the others –
documents Ulery’s uncanny ability to fuse the darkly foreboding character of Eastern European
folkloric music, the narrative quality of film scores and the distinctive colorings of Ulery’s
In concert, however, the piece took on a practically operatic grandeur, Chicago singer Grazyna
Auguscik’s soaring, wordless vocals pushed forward by Ulery’s swelling instrumentals. Here was
Ulery plunging fearlessly into a musical language of his own making, the sweeping lyricism of
his work undergirded by the peculiarities of his chord progressions, the unconventional structure
of his phrases and the nearly expressionistic emotionalism of his message. No work in this set
crystallized the meaning of Ulery’s music more eloquently than “Gone as it Always Was,” a tour
de force of vocal-instrumental writing.
But the pieces leading up to it made an impact, as well. You could hear shades of Kurt Weill in
“Dark Harvest,” its exotic scales and streaks of dissonance softened a bit by the warmth of the
performance. In “Shortest Day,” pianist Rob Clearfield improvised an extended, opening solo
that combined 19th century Brahmsian expression with 21st century American jazz, James Davis’
piercing trumpet solos then crying out above the plush ensemble writing. The harmonic tension
and rhythmic drive of “To Lose Your Mind” were rendered all the more powerful by the innervoice
clarity that only a concert performance provides. All of this music benefited from Jon
Deitemyer’s subtle drum work, which finessed Ulery’s continuously changing meters, tempos and
Ultimately, Ulery has fashioned not so much a jazz set as a concert music that embraces jazz,
minimalism and many other idioms. Because of its pristine sonic beauty and cross-genre appeal,
“By a Little Light” should be heard in concert halls and perhaps will find an outlet there. Ulery
already has been booked to perform an expanded version of the music this summer during the
“Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” series at Millennium Park.
Perhaps that performance will further launch Ulery’s magnum opus across the country and
beyond. “By a Little Light” deserves no less.
“By a Little Light” will be performed in expanded form at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 16 at the Pritzker
Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue; free; visit
millenniumpark.org or phone 312-742-1168.
Copyright © 2012, Chicago Tribune
By JACK WALTON
South Bend Tribune Correspondent
5:50 a.m. EDT, July 12, 2012
When a top music critic writes about a new release in “album of the year” terms — and the year
is only halfway over — you know it’s a recording worth tracking down. The Chicago Tribune’s
Howard Reich recently made such a claim on behalf of Matt Ulery’s latest, “By a Little Light.”
Reich is not alone in getting excited about bassist Ulery and his delicate, mesmerizing
compositions. Ulery’s profile is on the rise, and he’s making his name as a significant new voice
in music. He calls his band Loom, which can exist as a bigger ensemble with violin, horns and
vibraphone or in a smaller incarnation as a piano trio.
At the end of June, Ulery headlined two nights at Chicago’s hip jazz venue, the Green Mill.
“The fact that we could play this highly dynamic, often intimate music in that club was really
special for us,” Ulery says by telephone from his Chicago home.
On Sunday, Ulery performs at Merrimans’ Playhouse in South Bend. He’s bringing the piano-trio
version of Loom, featuring pianist Rob Clearfield and drummer Jon Deitemyer.
Loom concerts are full of unexpected moves, but don’t count on a procession of solos. Most of
the repertoire is through-composed, more in the tradition of classical music. Improvisation only
provides colors in the details: Nobody will take a wailing solo at any point.
In this sense, Loom performances primarily operate as a presentation of the composed material,
rather than the usual model in which the compositions are jumping-off points for improvisation.
“I enjoy being as deliberate as I want to be, so a lot of the material ends up through-composed,”
Ulery says. “But I can leave sections of openness in regards to the grooves. The chords and the
melodies are very much through-composed, but we leave it open, as a rhythm section, to explore
all sorts of different ways to accompany the written material.”
He acknowledges that the concert environment is a little more fertile for spontaneous ideas than
the studio environment is.
“When we play live, there’s more improvisation than what occurs on the albums,” Ulery says.
“We stretch out more.”
All three musicians in the Loom trio are around 30 years old, and all of them also play classical
and rock music. Their particular jazz sub-genre is best defined as “chamber jazz.” It’s jazz all
right, but the meticulous arrangements and avoidance of soloing is more in the tradition of
“I’m comfortable with the ‘chamber jazz’ label,” Ulery says. “I like it.”
Although it’s tough to compare the unique Loom sound to anyone in particular, it’s fair to
mention the Masada Chamber Ensemble as a touchstone, especially because Ulery admires two
of that band’s prime movers: saxophonist John Zorn and trumpeter Dave Douglas.
“I’ve been influenced by the way they include modern classical music and different folk music
from around the world, particularly Eastern European folk music,” Ulery says. “The idea is that
you can have an ensemble with a jazz mentality, but not necessarily speaking the bebop
language. We speak the spectrum of jazz language, without limiting ourselves, but we have a
concept. We’re not just all over the place.”
Douglas has taken note of his admirer’s work, and signed Ulery to Greenleaf Music, Douglas’
own record label.
“By a Little Light” can touch on the mellifluous minimalism of Philip Glass, but without falling
prey to the torpor that can plague minimalist works. At other times, Ulery calls to mind the icy
visions of European jazz artists on the ECM label, but with a more rooted, “American”
Much of Ulery’s time away from Loom is spent with another band, the guitar-driven modern folk
quartet Eastern Blok. With that group, Ulery focuses intently on Eastern European folk,
exploring its rich scales and rhythms.
Ulery has also played with guitarist Jeff Parker, and he admires Parker’s work with the post-rock
“Post-rock and indie rock are part of my roots as a musician. Grunge and punk rock, too,” Ulery
says. “Tortoise is in there, for sure. There’s an edginess that I go for at times in my music that’s
there in that music as well.”
The resulting hybrid of ideas that fuels Ulery’s composing is already so accomplished and
enjoyable that Reich is not alone in considering him a musician to follow and a truly exciting
new composer. In the last year, DownBeat magazine awarded him 4. stars out of five in a
review, and NPR has given him a feature segment. Ulery knows that he’s not just a young
musician working in a vacuum anymore. People are paying attention.
“I’m extremely encouraged to be myself even more,” he says. “I know that I can pursue what I
like and be eclectic, and I know that people are open to that. So far, it’s working, and that’s
Howard Reich – Chicago Tribune
This is shaping up as a breakthrough year for Chicago bassist-bandleader Matt Ulery, whose
double album “By a Little Light” has been inspiring enthusiastic reviews across the country and
revelatory performances in Chicago.
In June, Ulery led his one-of-a-kind nonet at the Green Mill Jazz Club, the magical sounds of the
recording made all the more gripping in concert. With the Polish-born, Chicago-based singer
Grazyna Auguscik singing wordless vocals – and Ulery’s jazz-meets-classical band weaving a
lush, chamber-like accompaniment – “By a Little Light” emerged as a beguiling musical
statement from a Chicago musician who thinks differently. American jazz, Eastern European
folkloric music, contemporary minimalism and other genres came together with a seamlessness
and poetry not often encountered.
In part, this owed to Ulery’s savvy in recruiting musicians for the project, the hyper-sensitive jazz
work of pianist Rob Clearfield and drummer Jon Deitemyer enriched by members of the eighth
blackbird contemporary classical music ensemble.
The question now is whether Ulery and a band he has expanded to 13 musicians can cast the
same spell while playing to thousands, outdoors at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park on
Thursday night, during the “Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz” series.
“We’ll strive not to lose the intimacy,” says Ulery, who’s doing more than just hoping. He has rescored
the music of “By a Little Light” to project to a larger audience in a wide-open setting, but
he says he has tried to maintain the haunting transparency of the original.
“I’ve played that stage before, and when you’re on there, it’s remarkable,” he adds. “It feels like
you’re in a small room. So with that in mind, I have confidence that we’re going to have an
inspiring sound on stage.
“I’ve got some padding and sound ideas that I’m going to be working on with the sound engineer,
because their speaker system is incredible.”
True enough, and if Ulery and the technicians can capture the other-worldly quality of this
music, they will have accomplished a lot.
Equally important, the score for “By a Little Light” continues to evolve. For while the recording
instantly drew praise from critics, the music made a huge leap forward at the Green Mill,
conveying an operatic sweep barely hinted at on the album.
To Ulery, the transformation was perfectly natural, because he had cut the recording last October,
before he’d had a chance to work through the material in concert. At the Green Mill, the music
Until then, “It only had evolved in my head,” says Ulery. “So it’s only natural that when you get
in a room and do it a few times, people add their voices to it and their energy. It has developed
greatly since the recording.”
Thursday night’s concert could represent the next major step in the maturation of “By a Little
Light,” which Ulery realizes marks a turning point in his life as a composer. The artistic success
and critical response to this work has encouraged him to write a new slew of compositions for
the nonet, which he’ll take into the recording studio soon.
“I’ve decided that I like that sound and I like that chemistry,” says Ulery. “Realistically and
logically, I want to play this stuff live. If I already have a bunch of (music) written, I may as well
write a bunch more.”
Considering the effectiveness of the first batch, one hardly can wait to hear the next.
Matt Ulery and guests perform “By a Little Light” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Pritzker Pavilion
in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue; free; 312-742-1168 or
Chicago bassist/composer Matt Ulery takes a different approach on his latest venture, the doubledisc
project By a Little Light, which melds jazz and classical into an iconoclastic fusion inspired
by Romantic classical music, American minimalism, jazz, Eastern European folk and even
current indie rock. While that probably seems like a possible hodgepodge, Ulery ably
interweaves these elements via a progression of low-key emotional nuances and alterations,
detailed moments of refinement and polished musical movements. At the core of both discs are
two separate piano trios, featuring Ulery, either pianist Ben Lewis or his counterpart Rob
Clearfield; and either drummer Jon Deitemyer or Michael Caskey. Ulery also divides his
endeavor into two distinct suites or dramatic acts: the all-instrumental CD 1 is subtitled “Little
Light,” whereas the mostly vocal CD 2 is subtitled “To the Brim.” Ulery also utilizes several
other musicians to bring tonal color to his auditory palette and escalate his compositional
dimensions, including members of the freethinking strings ensemble Eighth Blackbird; a horn
section; and Polish-born, Chicago-based singer Grazyna Auguscik. By a Little Light was issued
in both CD and digital download form: this review refers to the compact disc release.
The album’s moody veneer begins with slightly skewed, Halloween-tinted “Dark Harvest,”
which evokes Ray Bradbury’s nocturnal narratives such as Something Wicked This Way Comes
and Tim Burton’s cinematic fantasies such as Edward Scissorhands. Clarinet, flute, strings and
piano commingle along a shadowy melody which circles from lyrical to dissonant and back. The
lengthy, trio-only title track also initiates with a ghostly foreboding, where Lewis leads the
threesome with prevalent jazz chords which start out with a memory-laced lining but before long
move into a post-bop sweep. The trio returns to the arrangement’s melancholy ambiance by the
tune’s conclusion. One of the standouts on the first disc is the gamboling “To Lose Your Mind.”
The vibes, glockenspiel and piano supply a secure foundation while strings (Zach Brock’s violin
in particular), piano and drums contribute a rhythmic ascent which gives the piece an impression
of a travelling across paths not yet taken. The final track on CD 1 is another film-like evocation,
“The Miniaturist,” which elicits nods to Michael Nyman’s modular minimalism. Here,
Clearfield’s keys and Matthew Duval’s vibes fashion minor harmonic variations, while plucked
bass and drums infuse the “The Miniaturist” with a softened sense of mobility.
Ulery’s storytelling aspects are forefronted on CD 2. Ulery commences with “Processional,” an
extended, pictorial-esque overview where he uses orchestral shadings and timbres on a main
theme which shifts back and forth over a waltz-like motif. From there, Ulery turns to songs about
seeking love, wondering how far a significant other might go to protect someone special, the
discovery of affection and devotion, and how loyalty and support can span time. “Somebody
Somewhere” is split into dissimilar portions which might have been better as two different tunes:
the introductory and ending segments contain a moderate, blithely jazzy conduit for Auguscik,
who sings Ulery’s occasionally clichéd verse with her hushed Polish accent. The middle section
is a jazz trio breakout headed by Clearfield’s twisting piano runs, with drums and bass frequently
changing the tempo. Ulery undertakes lead vocals on the tender but overtly fluctuated “Broken
and Blinded,” which at the outset advances like a clockwork assembly, similar to Steve Reich’s
most pop-oriented pieces, but then glides into both straight pop and jazz domains. Ulery admits
he wanted to sing his lyrics so he could denote an appropriate cadence to the song’s central
character, but his limited range and weak vocal ability is a detriment. Auguscik helms the last
three tracks, which maintain the thematic quality of the previous material. The best of the three,
“To the Brim,” has a beautiful melody reinforced by Tim Munro’s alto flute and Michael
Maccaferri’s bass clarinet, which imbue the tune with an affecting allure. Here again, the
arrangement morphs from a gentle hue to ample jazz, and then back to the temperate beginning.
While this kind of dynamic diversity can furnish certain compositions with determination, Ulery
seems to employ the same methodology too repeatedly. The closing number, “Gone As It Always
Was,” retains the orchestrated emphasis from “Processional,” and where Auguscik brings to
mind fellow Chicago singer Kurt Elling. Ulery’s nearly two-hour release is idiosyncratic and
individualistic: a genre-defying document which is both jazz and not jazz, with crossover appeal
to pop and modern classical listeners but without a strong footing in either camp. Most likely it
will prove to be a challenge to anyone who chooses to hear what Ulery has produced.
CD 1: Dark Harvest; By a Little Light; To Lose Your Mind; Wilder Years; Shortest Day; The
CD 2: Processional; Somebody Somewhere; Broken and Blinded; Sow the Deep Seeds; To the
Brim; Gone As It Always Was
—Doug Simpson, Audiophile Audition
By a Little Light:
Matt Ulery’s Loom
with special guests
Thursday Aug 16th,
6:30PM FREE @
Jay Pritzker Pavilion,
Preview by Neil Tesser
Bassist and composer Matt Ulery had a pretty good resume going even before his new doubledisc
By A Little Light dropped in June. But the album, his debut on Dave Douglas’s Greenleaf
label, has certainly (and deservedly) splashed that resume with a bright national spotlight.
The spotlight shifts to Millennium Park on Thursday night, when Ulery presents music from By
A Little Light in the fourth installment of this year’s Made In Chicago series at Pritzker Pavilion.
The album uses chamber-music orchestrations – featuring members of the new-music classical
ensemble eighth blackbird as well as Ulery’s established working band, Loom – to stake a
middle ground between jazz and indie post-rock; the album draws heavily on the cinematic
textures that Ulery loves and has explored in earlier projects. The album’s guest artists –
including the rangy, stunning vocalist Grazyna Auguscik – all joined Ulery for the album’s
official release celebration at the Green Mill last month. If you missed them now, you’d better
clear the calendar for this one.
At the Mill, Ulery’s ensemble did a lovely job of transferring his nuanced writing to the stage.
On By A Little Light, Ulery threads together his extensive jazz background with a half-dozen
other idioms. But his ability to actually synthesize these disparate influences – rather than just
mash them up – smoothes out what might have become a disparate mess. The textures are lush,
but not soupy; most of the solo work falls to pianist Rob Clearfield, whose neatly knotty
improvisations provide a soulful ballast.
Through his work with Loom, Ulery has spent the last several years developing a sort of “altjazz”
sensibility; the effect is not far removed from the way that the alt-country and indie-rock
idioms prismatize and refocus the genres on which they’re based. Several of the pieces on By A
Little Light have the feel of soundtrack music in search of a movie; others suggest such divergent
models as film composers John Barry and Howard Shore, and occasionally even Philip Glass.
(And none of it sounds remotely like the sweetened arrangements that Don Sebesky used to give
“jazz-with-strings” such a bad name in the 70s.)
But as I said, none of these threads overpowers the others; in a way, Ulery’s current music is
easier to describe in terms of what it isn’t, rather than by detailing each of its component parts.
The difficulty in this project calls to mind Duke Ellington’s famous rejection of the need to do
so: “There are two kinds of music,” the Maestro is reported to have said. “Good music, and the
other kind.” The music on the schedule at Pritzker certainly falls under the former label – both on
disc and on stage.
Matt Ulery, Loom, and his selected guests perform for free on Thursday (August 16) at Pritzker
Pavilion; the concert opens at 6:30 with young musicians from the Jazz Links program of the
Jazz Institute of Chicago, which co-curates the Made In Chicago series.
(translated by Google)
This is not a jazz album. This is a record of outstanding music. That does not tolerate and
examination pigeonholed into any category. And this is an alternate reality that takes place often
outside attention and know most of those who enjoy good music to listen to.
“To A Little Light” is ready to cash soundtrack theatrical production of the highest quality. This
arresting, beautifully written and brilliantly orchestrated. Stimulating the imagination. Each of
the students imagine a movie a little differently. For me it’s dark, a bit gloomy puppet animation
production in the old style. For someone else it might be a historical drama with the action
placed in the castle with a large garden, or a road movie, but rather, without a car, maybe for
someone riding a bike, or in the old days – even a horse.
Matt Ulery is a tremendous talent. I do not know how easy, but certainly effectively writes
excellent topics can creatively use unusual instruments. There has actually two configurations -
Rob Clearfield (piano) and Michael Caskey (drums) or Ben Lewis (piano) and Jon Deitemyera
(drums). Sam is a bit in the shade. Do not expect a double bass virtuoso performances. Matt
Ulery is a wizard, not a virtuoso, but surely he can play the bass.
The first disc is a double-album instrumental music. In the second you hear the voice of Grazyna
Auguscik completed in a few songs to speak the same Matt Ulery. Musically, the two discs are
kept in a fairly similar nature. I can not decide which one I like more. The latter is also further
evidence of the remarkable versatility of Grazyna Auguscik, which again shows that original,
innovative and which are beyond the projects all musical classifications are its specialty.
Matt Ulery is now one of the most creative musicians in the U.S. market. At least among those
discs to my attention. Maybe it’s somewhere else the next level of initiation, even more alternate
reality … I stick with “To A Little Light”.
In Poland, Matt Ulery boards do not buy one. Persevere you will find them on the internet. I
hope that if you are reading this text, then you trust me and confide Matt Ulery some of its zloty,
which after conversion into U.S. dollars will make somewhere at the other end of the world will
come to you “To A Little Light”. It can also a Polish distributor, or even interested in European
jazz this alternative reality and wants to help us buy and those of previous and future boards
following Matt Ulery. Maybe one of the concert promoters want to bring Matt Ulery before he
flew to Europe for concerts private jet, because I’m sure that as he wants, it will fly. And then
probably will remember the organizers, with whom he played, the more trouble was to bring
together the budget for the cruise tickets for the team and the hotel …
Rafal [monkey] radiojazz.fm
MORE RECENT CRITICAL ACCLAIM:
“…close-to-perfect representation of what jazz can be in 2009. Ulery went out of his way to ensure that absolutely no stone went unturned in creating just the right texture for these songs. Ulery and his group are creating new jazz on their terms.”
-Chicago Jazz Magazine
“Matt Ulery: genre-defying bassist-composer has become an increasingly intriguing figure in new-music Chicago, his work forward-looking, impossible-to-categorize and viscerally communicative.”
-Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
“Points with conviction to a new generation of Chicago jazz innovators. A polished and impressive debut.”
-Neil Tesser, Chicago Reader
“Ulery is one of jazz’s modern-day visionaries
“…like a seedling unfurling from the soil. …each player—and each style and tradition the band draws on—is like a thread in a sumptuous fabric”
-Peter Margasak, Chicago Reader
“Ulery’s music can’t be pinned down or put in a neat little genre box and that’s part of what makes it so special.”
-All About Jazz
“Ulery’s layered themes rank him as a counterpart to NYC’s Ben Allison or big band arranger Maria Schneider in that despite the strength of soloists, the focus is on collective weaving of the compositional tapestry.”
-Chicago Sun Times
“It has the melancholy beauty of something ravishing but out-of-season. And it is quite moving.
This CD is an unexpected surprise and quite absorbing listening. Ulery plays a distinctive bass and writes with originality. The ensemble has a unique sound and covers plenty of ground.”
“True aficionados in love with the art of music creation and exploration search entire lifetimes for the joy of experiencing the ultimate in musicianship, inventiveness and a worldly sampling of personal expression deep from within: In other words — the true essence of the musician’s being transmitted through his music, whether written, sung or doled out from the heart on a single instrument or an auditorium-sized ensemble. You will find that sound, that perfectionism and the depth that brings true original music to life, on this CD. This in not just another recorded effort in search of marketability. More pointedly, it is a study in the life, the breath and the wholeness of worldwide musical genius in unison. You’ve never experienced anything like it.”
-jazz critic, Matt P. Spinello
“Ulery’s music could be a soundtrack for dreams, with moments of supremely haunting beauty amidst glorious textures. This is composition and ensemble playing at a truly mature and satisfying level.”
-Brad Walseth, jazzchicago.net
“…delightfully difficult to classify, this music has the distinction of being both saturated with musical integrity and extremely accessible and listenable. the textures and sonorities available to him are plentiful, and he takes ample advantage, with colors, timbres and textrues coming at you from everywhere. Very often the band sounds larger than it is.”
-reviewed by Chris Kosky, Bass World, the magazine of the International Society of Bassists