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Matt Steckler: Persiflage

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Matt Steckler is a young saxophonist, flautist, and composer with an edgy saxophone style. Judging from this recording, he's got some provocative ideas. However, he still seems to be developing his craft and his approach. Not to imply that Steckler lacks something technically—rather, to this reviewer he seems unformed, as if he's not certain of his direction, other than the fact that he wants to play jazz.

Steckler gets around the horn reasonably well, yet I find his alto sax sound to be somewhat shrill and a bit harsh. His tone and his abrupt phrasing convey a sense of unresolved tension. Such tension seems discernable from the opening tune, "March Nor'easter," on which Steckler makes a stuttering, albeit interesting, entrance. He uses his embouchure to vary his attack, but too many of his solos seem to hit dead ends as he resorts to the same improvising strategies far too often. For instance, he relies on riffing both too early and too often, which mitigates the impact of some of his other more powerful, less conventional ideas.

Steckler's sidemen seem considerably more relaxed. Trombonist Curtis Fowlkes often sounds laconic, almost lazy, but he knows how to build tension and power while still sounding utterly relaxed. His every solo on Persiflage is excellent. The members of the rhythm section are also a major asset here, playing together with a smooth yet powerful unity of purpose, working deeply inside Steckler's intriguing, clever compositions and creating a pulsating carpet for the horns. They generate a formidable energy throughout; the Latin cooker "Episodio Pa' Osmany" is one of the high points.

Although I have expressed reservations about Steckler's playing on this album, it also needs to be emphasized that he remains a thinking musician, willing to take risks rather than resort to safe but cliche ideas. Some of his improvisations on this just-released 2002 recording date are very good, such as "Ring On Delhi." One of the dictionary definitions of the word "persiflage" is relaxed talk, or banter. While there isn't enough such conversation on this album, it has enough merit that one would hope Matt Steckler will continue to grow.


Track Listing: March Nor'easter; Hitting The Windshield; Persiflage; Episodio Pa' Osmany; Ring On Delhi; Turbulent Life Seekers; Spitfire; Mallard Call In The Cain Fields; Unknown Rebel; Country Rake Fight.

Personnel: Matt Steckler: alto sax, flute; Curtis Fowlkes: trombone; Michael Cain: piano; Lonnie Plaxico: bass; Pheeroan Aklaff: drums.

Title: Persiflage | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Innova Recordings


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