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Matt Ulery: In the Ivory

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In the Ivory wasn’t written as a soundtrack, but someone ought to take it and build a film around the music. Matt Ulery, a bassist and composer, writes melodies that beg for expansive cinematic shots of open plains and characters who speak more through facial expressions than words. At the core of the music is Ulery’s trio, but that unit is joined by the contemporary chamber ensemble Eighth Blackbird, two vocalists and some reeds. If In the Ivory doesn’t fit under the banner of “jazz,” it doesn’t easily fit under any other label comfortably, either. Several approaches come together to make this music.

It should be mentioned that large projects are nothing new to Ulery; in 2012 he released the double-album By a Little Light through Greenleaf. “Gave Proof” opens the new album and wastes no time proving his mettle. Minimalist melodies keep shifting ever-so-slightly, with countermelodies from clarinets and alto flutes and, finally, the strings serving up a piece that feels like a main title. While the Philip Glass style of repetition reappears occasionally throughout the album, Ulery never lets it overpower the music. Even “Resilin,” which is built around it, lasts only a few minutes, serving more as an interlude that links the two discs. More often the compositions begin in one setting and expand into other territories. Here, perhaps, is where the jazz influence factors in. “Black Squirrel,” for example, begins with the strings introducing a melody that gets picked up by the piano, which eventually goes into a free solo before the melody returns.

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