IN THE IVORY
Matt Ulery – Bass, background vocals
Grazyna Auguscik – Vocals
Sarah Marie Young – Vocals
Erik Hall – Background vocals
Corbett Lunsford – Background vocals
Timothy Munro – Flute
Michael J. Maccaferri – Clarinet
Gregory Beyer – Berimbau, maracas, marimba, vibraphone
Rob Clearfield – Piano
Lisa Kaplan – Piano
Zach Brock – Violin
Yvonne Lam – Violin
Dominic Johnson – Viola
Nicholas Photinos – Cello
Jon Deitemyer – Drums, percussion
Composer and bassist Matt Ulery has a unique style that is heavily inspired by the dramatic arts. He is adept at carefully balancing superbly polished sophistication with exciting spontaneity as well as seamlessly melding various genres into an original and provocative musical amalgam. His seventh release as a leader In the Ivory is a cycle of songs, both vocal and instrumental, that distils the essence of his oeuvre and expands it to symphonic dimensions.
Ulery constructs the albums crystalline and mercurial sonic narrative out of baroque, jazz, and various folk motifs. Levantine mysticism imbues “Seeker” as it opens with pianist Lisa Kaplan exchanging circular refrains with the string quartet. As this elegant sashay evolves, various band members hover in and out weaving a melodic fairy tale that gradually focuses on clarinetist Michael Maccaferri’s heady undulating tone.
Ulery often exquisitely fuses two or more influences into a single cohesive piece. “The Farm” for instance goes from vocalist Sarah Marie Young’s subtly sensual poetic articulation to an intimate voice and piano recital as pianist Rob Clearfield joins Young. Clearfield effortlessly transitions to a jazzy trio with his acerbic phrases flowing over Ulery’s and drummer Jon Dietemeyer’s rhythmic flourishes. The tune concludes with Clearfield’s lullaby like solo.
Both discs close with tracks that highlight the string quartet’s angular but unequivocally classical sound. “Innocent” is a mellifluous ballad that is peppered with Far Eastern harmonic accents as it commences with the reverberations of plucked strings. Its second half is filled with vibrant and joyful chamber music. “Viscous”, on the other hand is a solemn yet not mournful composition that the quartet interprets with sublime spirituality and reserved sorrow.
This thematically unified recording is an intensely lyrical and introspective work that defies narrow categories while affirming a singular artistry. It is Ulery’s best work to date as it superbly showcases his writing, performing and leadership skills.
By: Hrayr Attarian