• Michael Leviton
  • Matt Bauder

Reedist Matt Bauder spent just a few years in Chicago, between 1999 and 2001, but he made a strong mark—and the city’s improvised music scene left its imprint on him in return. He’s a no-nonsense musician with an abiding curiosity. He has forged a deliberately mercurial musical personality over the years. There’s nothing mysterious about his ideas or interests, but their nonchalant diversity and range have made it hard to pin him down as this or that. Of course, that’s one of the things that make the reedist, composer, and bandleader so special; not only is he good at many things, but working in disparate contexts is necessary for him. He recently joined the touring lineup of Arcade Fire following a long stint on the road with Iron & Wine; he regularly subbed in the Broadway production of Fela!; he’s worked in bands led by Taylor Ho Bynum, Anthony Braxton, Rob Mazurek, and Harris Eisenstadt; he’s explored abstract electronic music, engaged in long-from improvisation with the trio Memorize the Sky, and even played modern takes on classic doo-wop with his project White Blue Yellow and Clouds. In 2010 I wrote a profile of Bauder for DownBeat magazine, and he told me, “I want a balance, and I wouldn’t be doing all of these different things for this long if I wanted one of them to take over. I feel like I can’t take a narrow path like that. I see other people do it and get a lot of success from it, but it’s not possible for me.”

Still, Bauder retains his roots in jazz, and that sensibility colors everything he does. He recently released Nightshades (Clean Feed), the second album by his excellent quintet Day in Pictures—a jazz quintet through and through featuring trumpeter Nate Wooley, pianist Kris Davis (who replaces Angelica Sanchez, from the group’s debut), bassist Jason Ajemian, and drummer Tomas Fujiwara—and it arrives as one of his most accomplished efforts yet, a superb, elegantly swinging session built upon six sturdy, well-crafted original compositions. The record is dominated by the sort of classic, soulful hard-bop sound forged in the 50s, but within that durable model the individualism of each player comes through. Bauder introduces the handsome ballad “Starr Wykoff” with a lengthy tenor sax solo marked by harmonic ambiguity, dazzling rhythmic variation, breathily sensual tonality, and rich melodic generosity, leading into a tune that would’ve sounded at home in the repertoire of Coleman Hawkins. Both Bauder and Wooley expertly pour modern techniques and ideas into a classic model with astonishingly good, deeply satisfying results.

On the surface the opening piece called “Octavia Minor” flips the script a bit, summoning the spirit of vintage Ethiopian music, but once you get beyond the pentatonic harmonies and patient melody, the internal motion and improvisations are of a piece with the performances that follow. Below you can check out the wonderfully churning piece “August and Counting,” which opens with a thrumming groove and tart contrapuntal blowing from Bauder and Wooley. As the piece unfolds, the hornmen never really drop out, trading phrases, dropping accents on one another’s lines, and improvising in thrilling tandem, with Davis unspooling mahogany blankets of shimmering sound. I feel confident that Nightshades will end up as one of my favorite albums of 2014. That kind of quality and resonance is something that you can rely on Bauder to deliver.


Today’s playlist:

Harold Mabern, A Few Miles From Memphis (Prestige)
Samba de Coco Raízes de Arcoverde, Godê Pavão (independent)
Billy Paul, 360 Degrees of Billy Paul (Philadelphia International/Legacy)
Sara Serpa and Ran Blake, Aurora (Clean Feed)
Mark Fosson, Digging in the Dust (Tompkins Square)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.