Good things were promised by New York-based guitarist Matthew Stevens' fusionesque sophomore album, Preverbal (Ropeadope, 2017). It was made with a kicking trio comprising the exceptional bassist Vicente Archer, a longstanding associate of Robert Glasper, and drummer Eric Doob, whose credits include organist Dr. Lonnie Smith and, alongside Stevens, trumpeter Christian Scott. In the normal course of events, said good things would likely have come by autumn 2021, perhaps in the form of another trio album. But the timeline was messed up, first by lockdown, then by a broken elbow Stevens suffered in a bike accident.
So what we have with the solo album Pittsburgh is a stopgap. Recorded in early 2021, it presents eleven short originals, performed on an acoustic guitar, with no overdubs or sound layering of any kind. The pieces are not fragments, they are fully formed compositions; one is a reimagined version of "Cocoon" from the aforementioned Preverbal. Variegated but hanging together nicely, the tunes range from the abstract and experimental through the lyrical and hymnlike. Preliminary versions of some of them were performed by Stevens as part of Pittsburgh's Jazz Gallery's Lockdown Sessions video series. A few would stand longer workouts on Stevens' next plugged-in album with his band; the ballad "Buckets" and the churchy "Foreign Ghosts," for instance, along with the ebullient "Can Am," composed to celebrate the Canadian-born Stevens' recently obtained American citizenship.
The disappointment here is the playing time, which is just 32 minutes. In the digital age one is more often presented with albums which are too long rather than too short. But 32 minutes would have been considered wanting even during the analogue era, transcendent exceptions such as John Coltrane's A Love Supreme (Impulse, 1965) notwithstanding.
Ambler; Purpose of a Machine; Buckets; Can Am; Foreign Ghosts; Northern Touch; Cocoon;
Ending Is Beginning; Blue Blues; Broke; Miserere.
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.