Matt Jorgensen: Painting With Sound

Joshua Weiner By

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AAJ: Interesting! I wonder about the tension between being a player and being, especially on this very thematic and emotional album, the composer and leader. I realized that there are no drum solos on this record, not even trading of fours. Your playing is subtle rather than overpowering. Was that particularly due to the nature of the project at all?

MJ: Yeah, I think on some tunes I intentionally held back from a drumming aspect. Going back to your earlier question about the band, everyone knew the story of this record and what it was about. We had the art images in the studio, and I talked about what I was thinking in each tune, so everyone was playing the music from that standpoint. So a "drum solo" never really seemed to fit. There are spots in "Primal Scrip" and "Dialogue" where I take it up a notch, but the music isn't so much coming from a standpoint of a traditional jazz tune format. I think "Tattooed By Passion" would be the only tune that might fit in that mold.

AAJ: What led you to the use of strings on three of the tunes? It is very effective.

MJ: I just felt that there needed to be something more than just a traditional jazz group on the CD. I was working on the piece "Savage Grace" which finishes the album. It really was the "saying goodbye" piece of the album and it needed to bring closure to this whole project. I asked my old college roommate Jeff McSpadden, with whom I've been in bands over the years and who is now an accomplished writer of music for film and TV, to write some string parts. He co-wrote a couple of tunes with me on the [Matt Jorgensen+451] Another Morning CD, and he knows the sound of my groups. Just talking with him about what I wanted and the emotion behind the tune, he came up with some really rich and brilliant parts for the string quartet.

AAJ: There is a part in "Colorado" where the strings come in and the tune opens up, like a crack in the clouds has let the sun come through. It is very affecting and the emotion of that time, after Chisman's death, comes through.

MJ: I think it works well, thanks. Colorado has become a second home for us, so I wanted to have that open sound of the plains, sky, and mountains. And, yes, at the end I wanted there to be a "lift."

AAJ: The communication of intent on this record really makes it stand out for me. I feel that, as a listener, I am able to understand what you wanted to get across. That is part of what makes the record so strong.

MJ: When we play live, we play it almost in the album order, straight through. It just works that way. We usually add a few tunes from my previous records, but we think of it as a complete project from start to finish. I'm surprised it has been on jazz radio as much as it has already.

AAJ: Given the nature of the new record, how much do you feel that the listener's experience would be enhanced by being familiar with Chisman's art? It's a tension in what might be called "program music." To what extent does the music stand on its own?

MJ: Someone said to me that this CD is one example of why iPods will never completely replace CDs. Their point was that you needed the liner notes and packaging. I think that the music does stand on its own, but then again when we perform it live, if available, we project the paintings in the background. After we debuted it at the Earshot Jazz Festival people came up to me and told me how much it all made sense to them now. So I think it's a multimedia experience. We played the closing weekend of the Dale Chisman In Retrospect show in Denver on February 25th. It was literally a once-in-a-lifetime show, because some of the paintings were on display. And to see them in real life is pretty amazing. Even the guys in the band hadn't seen the real thing!

AAJ: Before we close, I'd like to ask about Origin, the label you run with John Bishop. You've been chosen jazz record label of the year in 2009. You have nearly 300 releases, and now two spin-off labels, OA2 and Origin Classical. In the current climate, what do you think has enabled Origin to be so successful, in the face of declining CD sales, downloading, and just the sheer number of releases out there now?

MJ: Well, we started back in 1997 as an artist-collective model, mainly because we were broke! But it has enabled us to stay in business and build something that is going to be here for the long run. We are fortunate that we are now able to have a small staff, and I now don't do as much of the day-do-day at Origin. But we still have our Ballard Jazz Festival, which we started, and I do a lot of web design for artists. I also produce some of the videos you see on the site, do the podcast and, of course, continue to perform and tour. We basically learned how to do everything ourselves because we didn't have any money to pay anyone, so now we have figured out how to make it work. We never had anything at the beginning, so for us it is just as it has always been. I was on a panel once with other executives of indie rock labels talking about the downturn in music sales and the state of the business. When it was my turn to speak I said, "Well, now everyone else knows what it is like to run a jazz record label!" Everyone chuckled, but it's true.

AAJ: Origin is racking up some hits too. I was very impressed with Thomas Marriott's work on your albums, and I know that he released a super-hot record out now with Ray Vega, East-West Trumpet Summit (2010).

MJ: Yes, Thomas has another one out now too called Constraints and Liberations, which is amazing, featuring John Bishop on drums; and then another CD coming out later this year with me, Mark Taylor, and Gary Versace on organ.

AAJ: You are busy men! But that's the best thing for a jazz musician, to have much work to do, isn't it?

MJ: Seriously! It sure beats the alternative.

Selected Discography

Matt Jorgensen, Tattooed By Passion: Music Inspired By The Paintings of Dale Chisman (Origin, 2010)

Ray Vega/Thomas Marriott, East-West Trumpet Summit (Origin, 2010)

Richard Cole, Inner Mission (Origin, 2009)

Matt Jorgensen + 451, Another Morning (Origin, 2008)
Matt Jorgensen + 451, Hope (Origin, 2004)
Matt Jorgensen + 451, Quiet Silence (Origin, 2002)

Photo Credit

All Photos: Courtesy of Matt Jorgensen
About Matt Jorgensen
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