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Matthew Stevens: Leading From Within

A go-to sideman makes a smart, stirring bid for the spotlight

Matthew Stevens

The rising guitarist Matthew Stevens is known mostly as a sideman, and that’s not about to change. His distinctive sound, cloudy but sharp, has developed in relief to young bandleaders working between jazz, hip-hop and guitar rock-Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, Ben Williams, Jamire Williams and, most recently, Esperanza Spalding. Over 10 years, he’s been subtly tweaking the standard ideas of how a guitar can work in the accompanist’s role: His restrained, single-note style makes melody the main tool of rhythm, and rhythm into a kind of atmosphere.

But Stevens recently released Woodwork (Whirlwind), his full-length debut as a leader, and the approaches he’s developed as a sideman open out in new directions when he’s at the helm. “All great music has a great feel,” says Stevens, 33. “I wanted the record to have this undercurrent of bubbling rhythm.”

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