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Meniscus is a new label founded by writer Jon Morgan whose work has appeared in such notable creative music journals as Cadence, Coda and the Wire. Recognizing the importance of documenting the music first hand Morgan took up the crusade of elevating the visibility of improvisers whose names are often not as widely circulated as some of their peers - an especially risky enterprise when one considers the economics of creative improvised music. A further distinction for Meniscus is found in the types of projects Morgan chooses to undertake, all of which emphasize the artistic possibilities of solo, duo and trio performances over larger group settings. The label’s first release spotlighted the music of drummer Gino Robair in a series of duo and trio settings and the second, a solo recital by Wisconsin-based cellist Matt Turner. Two new discs represent the second wave of Meniscus releases and two more titles are slated for the immediate horizon. All of Morgan’s tireless work seems to be paying off, albeit slowly.
Bay-area based pianist Matthew Goodheart possesses a tremendous dynamism, which is ideally suited to the rigors of solo improvisation. His fingers employ the entire keyboard conjuring a range of sonorities that is stirring both in variation and immediacy. Alternately strident and soft his touch on the ivories juggles a mellifluous balance between brooding darkness and illuminating light. This disc marks Goodheart’s fourth release under his own name, though his talents have also been well documented as a contributor to improvising collectives under the leadership of others including Glen Spearman and Marco Eneidi. Goodheart’s wide-reaching interests have propelled him not only across the territories of jazz-based improvisation, but also through the landscapes of modern classical, Afro-Cuban and contemporary electronic music. The knowledge gleaned from explorations into each of these disparate styles comes into cooperative play on this beautifully executed solo recital.
The program is loosely divided into five pieces, though the disc’s divisions serve more as subjective signposts for the listener to attune his or hear bearings rather than as sharp demarcations. Each proceeding piece flows into the next with a fluidity that reflects Goodheart’s holistic approach to improvisation. “Sparks From the Ancient Sea” begins with a fragile flurry of notes and makes exquisite use of silence between repeated flourishes of melody. On “Structure for Piano No. 2” Goodheart carves a dense and deliberate edifice of sound from an initial array of sparse rumbling chords. As the piece progresses its melodic core serves as a cyclically recurring vantagepoint to survey the growing tide of subtle dissonance. “Can One Letter ‘Om’?” pays playful respects to Ornette Coleman by infusing some of his recognizable themes into a muscular, blues-grounded tour-de-force. Classical overtones coalesce with passages of vigorous improvisation on “Variations for Alvin Curran” and it is over this piece’s substantial length that Goodheart proves his adroit dexterity on the keys most. His skill at coaxing every possible permutation out of even the simplest melodic fragment is also magnificently rendered here. With the concluding “Shaker Melody” Goodheart abandons the keyboard proper and investigates the rich possibilities of his instrument’s innards, tugging and scraping at strings and rhythmically knocking on wood. The haunting theme, which closes the piece, dissipates to unanimous applause. Easily one of the most satisfying solo piano recordings in recent memory, this disc represents the work of a refreshingly original musician who will be one to watch in the coming years.
Track Listing: Sparks From the Ancient Sea/ Structure For Piano No.2/ Can One Letter
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.