Matt Piet: (pentimento)

Kevin Press By

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Matt Piet: (pentimento)
In the notes that accompany this remarkable new album from Chicago improv pianist Matt Piet, he writes that he ..."needed to learn how to give again." With remarkable frankness, Piet describes a kind of breakdown in 2018. After years of mental health challenges and substance abuse (his words), it was the passing of another great avant-gardist that tipped the balance.

"The death of Cecil Taylor impacted me in ways I had not anticipated," writes Piet. "I was proud of the work I was releasing, but could not reconcile that pride with the guilt I felt knowing that Cecil had opened the door for me in so many ways. How can I accept any recognition right out of the box when this man paved the way? What have I stolen from him? Am I a fraud? Can I see artistry as a long game, the way he did? How could I reconcile, as a queer white man in the 21st century, what had so long been denied my hero of heroes?"

Piet's regard for Taylor is better informed than most. The former child prodigy began studying piano and vocals at 10. By his early teens, he was a noted classical music pianist and accompanist. He exited the relative security of that world to study jazz, composition and improvisation at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Back at home in Chicago now, Piet balances membership in three trios—Matt Piet, Rempis/Piet/Daisy and Four Letter Words—with various improv performances, teaching roles and more.

Yet as the quote above makes clear, Piet applies the kind of humility to his work that is familiar to accomplished professionals. When you're this good, you see the differences between good and great that the rest of us don't.

More from his album notes: "It was not the anxiety of influence that was affecting me most. Abrupt cessation of all mind-altering substances, including psychiatric medication, led me to experience nearly two years of self-doubt, paranoia, anxiety, depression and numbness to pleasure. This inability to experience pleasure was most evident in my capacity to listen to music, let alone play it. I was not myself, I was not playing like myself, and I had brought this anhedonia upon myself through sheer neglect of my spiritual condition and my health...I was frightened that I had lost my creative spark, and that it would never return. I had forgotten to live by Cecil's own words: 'You own nothing. It isn't about possession; it's about giving.'"

Despite all that preceded it, Piet's new solo recording sounds very much like an artist at the top of his game. (pentimento) features multitracked solo piano performances; three layers à la pianist Bill Evans' Conversations With Myself (Verve, 1963). And while we cannot know if Piet's inner dialogue sounds anything like that of the great Bill Evans,' we can confidently say that lovers of Evans' classic will welcome Piet's latest into their collection.

Piet's goal with the new recording was to explore texture and at the same time maintain a degree of spontaneity and simplicity. He wrote himself a series of prompts, as triggers for the short improvisations he was hoping to produce. Phrases like "inside the piano" and "within one octave."

He worked from intuition and memory, recording the overdubs without going back and listening to the original tracks. (Besides being the Italian term for repentance, the album's title is a visual art reference, describing the act of painting over pre-existing work.) We get 15 of the 20 pieces he recorded, clocking in at just under half an hour. They range from gently thoughtful—"Only a Phase" serves as a warm opener—to pulse quickening: "Alt-Man" is like a triple-shot espresso. It takes Piet all of 2 minutes and 1 second to cover that ground.

Then another turn. "Swipe Left" is downright menacing. It growls at us from the far end of the instrument, the one suggested by its title. Later, "Held Hostage" strikes the album's most boldly aggressive note. Piet's struggle is on full display here; the anger, sadness and baffling complexity of a life without peace of mind. Off we go from there, one or two minutes at a time. Just three of these pieces last more than three minutes. The first to do so is the elegantly minimalist "750 ML." Later, "To Elijah" is the album's darkest beauty. Piet helps us through its emotional quotient with sparkling technique and a heavy dose of romanticism. It is the work of an emerging master.

Piet departs with the album's longest piece, "Plod On As One." It is a nod to the difficult state of things these days, but also more. It completes (pentimento) gently, with that same humility previously discussed. Neither prideful nor fraudulent. More like a gift.

Track Listing

Only a Phase; Alt Man; Swipe Left; Hands of Time; A (whole) Nother Thing; Fluster-Cuck; 750 ml; Held Hostage; Danse Macabre; Incensed; to Elijah; Say On; The Power and the Freedom; Memento Mori; Plod On As One.


Matt Piet: piano.

Additional Instrumentation

Matt Piet: piano.

Album information

Title: (pentimento) | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Amalgam Music

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