Matt Ulery Brings His Cinematically Sweeping, Richly Melodic Art-Rock and Instrumentals to Littlefield
If bassist/composer Matt Ulery‘s lavishly cinematic new album, In the Ivory was in fact the soundtrack to a film – which it really ought to be – it would be an Orson Welles epic. That, or a Victorian horror film. Devil in the White City, maybe? Ulery’s elegantly aching theme and variations draw on both neoromanticism and mimimalism – Philip Glass in particular – as well as the ripe rises and falls of Hollywood film music from the 30s and 40s. It’s an unselfconsciously beautiful, poignant, lavish double-cd suite – streaming at Bandcamp – and one of the best albums of the year. Ulery and the ensemble from the album are playing the release show on Oct 14 at 8 PM at Littlefield; cover is $12, dirt-cheap for music this meticulously composed and played.
The initial theme, Gave Proof pretty much capsulizes what’s in store the rest of the way: a rippling piano tune that more than alludes to Glass’s Dracula soundtrack; velvety strings; acerbic woodwinds, and a pervasive angst amidst the sweep and grandeur. Ulery is also a solid lyricist: Grazyna Augusczik sings his allusively imagistic, sometimes crushingly embittered songs with wounded clarity that at its most affecting evokes Sara Serpa. The ensemble plays with grace and sensitivity: the core group includes Rob Clearfield on piano; Zach Brock and Yvonne Lamb on violins; Dominic Johnson on viola; Nicholas Photinos on cello; Timothy Munro on alto flute; Michael Maccaferri on clarinets; Gregory Beyer on vibraphone, marimba and percussion and Jon Deietemyer on drums.
The second track, There’s a Reason and a Thousand Ways brings to mind My Brightest Diamond in low-key ballad mode, then morphs into a pensive pastorale. Ulery works nimbly dancing permutations throughout the ensemble, from tense pizzicato strings to big rises and falls and finally a hint of jazz from the piano.
From there the bittersweetness builds to a peak: lush strings, a moody waltz, washes of jazz and a purposeful, swinging, hard-hitting stroll. The hero, or heroine hit their stride. Singer Sarah Marie Young joins Auguszik to deliver the first disc’s concluding chamber pop number, The Farm, with a lively flair, understating its corrosive portrayal of rural hell:
All for nothing nearly by…
The second disc contemplates mortality and the hope for something better in the interim. The Dracula-like theme returns and picks up with a dancing intensity. Augusczik sings the mutedly kinetic but hypnotically circular When Everything Is Just the Same, her distant angst matching its tightly wound ache to break free. A big, crescendoing overture and another waltz eventually wind their way to Visceral, where Ulery manages to mash up the horror movie cinematics, balletesque minimalism and an unexpectedly bubbly parade theme from the winds.
The drums fuel a Chopinesque piano concerto interlude; after a suspenseful lull, Brock and Deietemyer hit a biting, dancing peak. The group winds its way out with a blend of towering, anthemic orchestration, switching up creepy Glassine circularity and stark strings. The sonics at Littlefield are especially suited to this kind of thing.