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March 2009

Matthew Herbert Big Band
There’s Me and There’s You
K7 Records

Britain’s Matthew Herbert is a trickster, a composer/arranger capable of art pranks the likes of which phoning fans, striking matches in the House of Parliament and hammering nails into coffins are simply part of his usually unusual sense of humor. But after the yuks subside and the trumpets blare on, the former child-prodigy violinist/pianist known primarily for churlish atmospheric electronic music ushers forth last year’s best and tartest big-band record, one with a purpose beyond coming into his own and in league with the wildest efforts of Gil Evans, Carla Bley and George Russell.

With Sarah/Ella-like singer Eska Mtungwazi along for Herbert’s bumpy ride, this second Matthew Herbert Big Band album leaps through raging chorales and grand marching drums as if preparing for a high school musical. The woozy melodies he’s written stick to Herbert’s immense elegant arrangements like sauce on ribs. There’s Me and There’s You courses through lengthy stretches of audible quiet (like on “Nonsound”) and an array of tentative pianos and muted trumpets (like on “The Rich Man’s Prayer”) before closing with a bruising Mtungwazi vocal (“Just Swing”) that seems to race with its wall of brass in a game of who can screech the loudest.

But while Mtungwazi takes to her carefully enunciated whispers and screams and his orchestra bustles and slides, Herbert has one trick up his sleeve that isn’t funny or frantic: the dire literate lyrics on songs like “Waiting” that protest the war we’re paying for in cold cash and hot blood. The prankish noises can be found within There’s Me and There’s You. But don’t let the whoopee-cushioning fool you. Herbert isn’t kidding.

Originally published in March 2009
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