In 2009, pianist Matthew Sheens
became the first Australian to win a Downbeat Magazine Student Award, but that's hardly the only honor that's been bestowed upon this gifted musician. Sheens has been racking up grants, scholarships and awards at a rapid pace, as he moved from the University of Adelaide, where he completed his undergraduate work in 2008, to the New England Conservatory of Music, to pursue a Masters in Jazz Performance, to New York City, where he has resided since 2011.
Once in America, Sheens came under the sway of some of the best performer-educators out there, like saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi
and pianists Jason Moran
and Fred Hersch
. They helped to mold and shape this young artist-on-the-rise into a powerful and confident pianistic force but, more importantly, they taught him to be himself; Every Eight Seconds
Sheens' debutis a portrait of an independent spirit who is grounded and connected to the tradition, yet free to roam where he pleases. Sheens might be prancing along with voice and percussion keeping him company ("Fala Ingles") one minute, and engaging clarinetist Adam Kolker
in sprightly discourse the next ("Death On A Sunny Day"). Elegiac tones come to the fore on rare occasion ("Chernobyl"), but they're balanced out by pieces with propulsive enthusiasm ("The Rain Stays Mainly In Jamaica Plain") that hint at an Aaron Goldberg
-esque pan-globalism, a la his Worlds
(Sunnyside Records, 2006).
Sheens' original music, which dominates this program, is full of life and purpose, but his originality isn't limited to his own writing; in fact, the greatest example of his creativity may be his swirling, starry night take on "It Might As Well Be Spring." The only other non-Sheens numberCole Porter
's "Who Said Gay Paree?"comes off as purposefully prosaic, bringing out the natural melancholy of the song and lyrics; both of these covers are to-the-point performances that clock in under three minutes apiece, but this brevity serves them well.
Sheens avoids monotony by working different scenarios, like altered standards, piano-clarinet conversations, and vocal-percussion-piano episodes, but he probably would have found equal success in any one of those categories; all of his music is focused and direct, with nary a moment, note or gesture wasted; that's part of what makes this such a winning debut.
The Rain Stays Mainly in Jamaica Plain; Fala Ingles; Death on a Sunny Death; It Might as well
be Spring; Chernobyl; The Anesthetic of Familiarity; Cringe Culture; Every Eight Seconds; Who
said gay Paree?
Ji Hye Kim: voice (1); Adam Kolker: clarinet (3, 7); Quentin Angus: guitar; Matthew Sheens:
piano; Linda Oh: double bass; Colin Stranahan: drums; Rogerio Boccato: percussion.