Matt Marshak tells an Urban Folktale…or a dozen

You know, ladies and gents, some of the best things come in your mail. Free coupons for this. An invitation for that. A letter from an old friend. Or, as in my case, something funky.

Imagine my surprise, dear readers, when in the mail I got a dose of Carolina cool, a sweet melody, and infectious funk, told in a steel-string meander and familiar slide of fingers down the guitar’s fret.Yes, the new album by the new contender in jazz guitar is about to land, and the groove is strong with this one.

Just in opening the CD case, Marshak invites the potential listener to take a glass of a favorite merlot, and enjoy the stories told on the CD. That right there is a great message to send to listeners, and considering that music is often a tale of influence, and in jazz it’s lyrics-optional, there is a lot left to contemplate. Good, says I. The clear advantage with a guitar is that it’s open to versatile interpretations. Matt Marshak is, no doubt, clearly aware of it.

So I popped the CD into my Mac, turned up the volume, and within a few minutes, had to hand it to Matt for the merlot hint.

Now, my notables on this are:

1. Teddy P

Ah, old school. This commemoration to the soul singer whose name I’m sure you can surmise speaks in a tone that’s reminiscent of an empty upscale bar. Lights dissolving on windows. Click-click-clicks of glasses behind the bar. And a little meander of the strings with an echo of something not quite old-school, not quite new. .

3. and 4. Tell Me How You Feel

Now this is a good way to segue and kick it up. The vocals were faded in the the intro clip, brought up in the full track, and most crucially, this did not distract from the centerpiece. And as an overall, you can notice the album pace start to change without distracting from the quiet-chill vibe of it. This right there is much more the urban groove, slightly R&B-ish, and more than a bit John Tropea-like in keeping that faded-edge quality to his string-bending.

6. For So Long

Now this took me by surprise. At the intro, I expected the original tonality to carry, that faded-nightlife beat and melody. But then Matt turns up the electric, and takes a slightly rock-ish edge. And yes, keeping the original tonality.

How to describe the overall impression that I have of this track? I don’t quite know. It’s rich, a little stronger in its notes, a little more gritty than what you’d normally expect out of him, a little edgier, a little bolder. It’s quite spicy, the more I think about it.

7. Piece by Peace

Interesting, for sure. Lounge-y in its melody, but the gritty, raw weave through the obvious melody is captivating. The only bone I may have to pick on it is that the front melody is a little too strong; the harmonizing part needs to get a little more feature. Overall, however, it’s like a cup of good imported tea: just sink into it and savor.

9. Cackalacky Cool

Hearing a little something Southern on an album that had, so far, been a perfect example of best served chilled is a little bit of a surprise. And, considering that I heard both Gerald Albright and Kirk Whalum set a full-scale precedent on what Southern Charm a la jazz sounds like, I had to ask myself, “How does this one compute?

Pretty damn well, to be sure. It won’t become obvious until the chorus, but the Carolina is strong on this one, and the bass  slips through the overall vibe of the song on more than one occasion. And live on stage, Kenny Harris can take that bass line and give it a nice firm kick.

13. Dancin’ With My Daughter

Now, truthfully, this right here is a lot more Southern Charm. Richly accented with horns, undeniably expressive, this is Matt Marshak getting emotional and doing so without speaking. The arrangement is seemingly simple, but the melody takes a distinctly less lyrical tack. It’s definitely a contrast to the beginning vibe of the album, and a very personal way to wrap it up.

Having listened to this album twice – first to get the general vibe, and second to dissect it properly, I will say that this is both what you’d expect out of Matt Marshak, and something that’s completely new to him. This is definitely off the beaten path of jazz guitar, and a little meander off what you’d expect in the lines of contemporary jazz. The general impression of the album stays as I stated above: best served chilled.

And yes…with the merlot.

With a most hearty thank you to Matt Marshak, Nuance Music, and Steve Butler,