Matthew Charles Heulitt: Sonic Magician
AAJ: "Never Present" echoes electronic-era Miles Davis. Is that a fair comment? If so, is this a period of Miles which you particularly like?
MCH: Yes, for sure. The rock elements along with the Wurli always stir those '60s-'70s Miles impressions. To be exact, this song was more of a nod to Chris Potter, but the instrumentation and edginess of it are certainly Miles- influenced. I adore all eras of Miles, but certainly my favorite is anything of the classic quintet from the mid-'60s through the '70s. The sound of the electric piano in jazz certainly began with Miles' experimentations in that era, and I've always loved it. There was a Wurli in the studio and Kit played beautifully on it. He really understands that era of music and interprets it in his own unique way.
AAJ: You switch to acoustic guitar on "Clearing." Do you have a preference for either acoustic or electric guitar, or is it like asking a parent which son or daughter is more special?
MCH: Well, yes, I love them both. If you compare how much time I spend playing each one, there's no denying that I'm an electric guitarist. The acoustic guitar has such a beautiful timbre for jazz and offers a nice tonal change in the midst of a guitar album. I always loved the Pat Metheny and Kevin Eubanks records with acoustic guitars on them. I also love the simplicity of having an all-acoustic ensemble.
AAJ: A really beautiful tune is "Fountain of Worth," where the tabla playing of Bryan Bowman really brings a nice dimension to the music. Did you imagine tabla from the beginning or did it suggest itself to you later in the compositional process?
MCH: I use various tools for composition, and this song was written using Reason. I put a tabla loop over the bass line and it brought a meditative quality to the tune. I knew that if I recorded it, it had to retain that feeling. Bryan Bowman and I had been playing together a lot during this time as a guitar/tabla duo. Ultimately, I would love to do a dedicated recording of that music, but at the least I wanted to have Bryan play on the record, and this song was the obvious choice.
AAJ: You've mentioned Frisell, Metheny, Eubanks and Torn as influences in one way or another, and another guitarist who you turned to for advice was Wayne Krantz. What did you learn from him?
MCH: Wayne has an amazing and beautifully thought-out method for opening the guitar up to actual improvisation. Most methods force you into patterns, shapes, and recyclable licks. When I first heard Wayne, I thought, "That's how I hear myself sounding...in another 20 years," in my own way, of course. But his voice is so unique, his touch of the guitar is intimate, and his timing is impeccable. He gave me some tools and ideas to think about that basically have become an unending source of material to work through and constantly generate fresh ideas ever since. I went to him because I felt stuck in my attempts to improvise and he offered a solution in less than 60 minutes.
His courage and tenacity to do his own thing and turn away from his influences has been a major inspiration for me to do the same. Plus, he's just an incredibly nice and thoughtful person and, amazingly, always remembers me when I show up at his gigs every couple of years.
AAJ: In your bio you mention quite a few horn players and pianists as major influences, among them Michael Brecker, Tim Berne, Charlie Peacock, and Esbjorn Svensson. How do you think your love of horn players and pianists has affected your guitar playing style?
MCH:I like the freedom and agility of pianists and horn players that is so rarely achieved on the guitar. They can simply play things that are oftentimes not executable on the guitar, and I think that's fresh and exciting. The guitar is limited by its layout, which is a blessing and a curse. I've always tried to approach the guitar with that same kind of freshness and agility that I hear in other instruments. There's also a kind of soul in wind instruments; the fact that the notes are created by your breath is so visceral and intimate. I've always tried to recreate that feeling with tone and touch.
AAJ: Have you been gigging much to promote Room to Run? How difficult is it to get gigs to perform your own music?
MCH: The live music scene today is not about what you play, but how many people can you bring into a venue to buy drinks. It's a little discouraging, but given the proper venue, good things can still happen. Because I'm so involved in so many different projects I don't play and/or promote this music as much as I'd like to. It's a work in progress, though, and as with all good things, it just takes a little time. Ideally I'd love to travel a bit because I think the audience in America is generally not tuned into creative jazz. Europe is much more receptive to such things, and I'll be looking for opportunities to bring it there.