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Before & After: Tarus Mateen

In search of "wow" music

Tarus Mateen (photo by Marlon Hightower)
Tarus Mateen (photo by Marlon Hightower)

For 17 years and counting, bassist and composer Tarus Mateen has anchored Jason Moran’s acclaimed trio, the Bandwagon. And while Mateen has also played with such jazz luminaries as Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Art Blakey, Betty Carter, Marc Cary and Terence Blanchard, as well as hip-hop heavyweights like De La Soul, the Roots and Common, his name doesn’t resonate as loudly in mainstream circles as his versatility and rugged approach suggest it should. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that he left New York 12 years ago and is now based in Washington, D.C., where he’s active on the city’s slightly below-the-radar jazz scene. Or it could be that he’s released only one album under his own name, Arising Saints: The Art of the Solo, an amalgam of gutbucket funk, simmering soul and vigorous 21st-century jazz featuring Moran, singer Brittany Tanner and his brothers Radji on saxophone and Umar on drums.

“People always count me out when talking about hip bass players, even though I was one of the first true [jazz] torchbearers of the ’90s,” Mateen, 49, said recently at Busboys and Poets, a restaurant, bookstore and event space located in D.C.’s Mount Vernon Triangle. “I was surprised to hear that you wanted to do a ‘Before & After’ session with me.”

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