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Matt Belzer: Connections

Dan McClenaghan By

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Connections, featuring seven tunes from the pen of composer/reedman Matt Belzer, opens on a jazz/rock groove—in front of some cool and gorgeous and very unrock-like sax/clarinet harmonies. On a flow of gentle propulsion, "Deep Focus" immediately engages the listener while delving into deeper musical layerings. It's an excellent and approachable introduction to Belzer's original concepts.

Matt Belzer boasts an impressive professional resume: Director of Homewood Jazz Ensembles at John Hopkins University; Jazz Department Chair at the Peabody Prepatory; and teacher of jazz courses at the University of Maryland. But a visit to the artist's web site reveals a nugget of his genetic resume: his second cousin, Dick Richards, played drums for the original Bill Haley and the Comets. Really! (says Belzer). That's fascinating for me, in a "degree of separation" mode... my very first musical memory comes from 1956: Bill Haley and the Comets' "See You Later Alligator" rocking out of a radio. I loved that happy-go-lucky beat, the flowing rhythm punctuated by sharp, tinny drumming.

That's an interesting connection, but this music is a completely different animal. After the engaging groove of "Deep Focus," the sound goes more abstract with "The Ember Waltz," the slightly jagged "Misfit the Second," and then—going in a direction of freedom—"No Blue on Mars (It's All Red)," featuring some darkly luminous alto flute work on a drifting melody and an interlude of delicately pretty piano by Jon Ozment. "The Station," featuring Belzer on clarinet, conveys a deeply introspective mood. The group closes on a groove with "Tinjitu," a relaxed roll with Belzer on alto—a tune that has a Joe Zawinul "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" feeling—and check out the "bouncing ball" rhythm this group sneaks in there.

A first rate jazz outing that walks a line between grooves and freedom. Beautiful!

Track Listing: Deep Focus; The Ember Waltz; Misfit the Second; No Blue on Mars (It's All Red); The Station; Truism; Tinjitu.

Personnel: Matt Belzer: soprano and alto saxophones, alto flute, clarinet; Scott Tiemann: drums, cymbals; Drew Waters: bass; Jon Ozment: piano, synth electronics.

Title: Connections | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Self Produced


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