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Matt Penman: The Unquiet

There’s a new bass face in the Apple, Matt Penman, from New Zealand, with a debut CD as leader/writer/producer, The Unquiet (Fresh Sound/New Talent). I would like to say he succeeds in all three categories, but what emerges most impressively is his bass playing. And thereby hangs a blatant irony: Penman takes but one solo, and all eight tunes are his. Is the 27-year-old shy? Or intimidated by the prodigious talents of his colleagues, tenor and soprano saxophonist Chris Cheek, guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, keyboardist Aaron Goldberg and drummer Jeff Ballard? That lone Penman solo comes in “Treehugger,” over the celestial sounds of Goldberg’s Fender Rhodes, and it is beautifully shaped. For other insights into his melodic sense, you have to wait for his rare moments of gap-filling.

In general, though, Penman’s writing is weak, with lines that do not lie well, as evidenced by his endless, plodding title tune, which sounds like he dispensed with bar lines. Same complaint about “Desert Storm”: it’s stuck in a whole-tone sand dune and seems to go nowhere.

Originally Published