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Matt Turner: The Mouse That Roared

AAJ Staff By

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Right at the top, it goes for the throat: the bowing is muscular, and miles from serene. Matt Turner paints a grainy theme, full of tension: the low string grunts, the others respond. At times there’s a peaceful excursion, one string musing in violin range – and soon we return to unison vigor. It’s improvised with the feel of ‘20s avant-garde; bending traditions with a sense of order. The audience appreciates, and so do I. That’s just a taste; the mouse has only begun to roar.

These were taped at a cello festival in Connecticut; I get the feeling these are presented in order, which means Matt has a flexible mind. “Improv 2” takes indistinct scrapes and orchestrates them, for a sound like radio static. Hollow plucks lead to skittering noise (sounds like he’s bowing vertically) and tremulous screams. Themes poke through, and recede into the fog. A low drone at the end meets a twangy pluck – a sarod joined by tamboura. The scrapes return, some theremin glissandi, and it is done. (The applause is weaker this time, but it is earned.)

“Improv 4” trembles hard, starting with what sounds like guitar feedback. A rusty note weeps, with Middle East sonorities. Structurally it’s like “1”: a consistent mood developed by turns. A great performance, but less breathtaking than others. “5” slides notes with a great sense of cool: the sound of jazz from an unlikely source. The tone is clean, but the style has a hint of Stuff Smith! (That slyness is there; check the near-quote of “Salt Peanuts”.) Matt goes lower, and you think of ambitious bass solos – though they’re rarely as agile as this. An abrupt turn takes us to a concert hall (some thrilling avant repetitions) and then some whoops at the end. Hear that crowd! They expect nothing like this, and neither did I.

We’ve heard many sounds so far – “Improv 6” gives us woodwinds! High bowing produces an airy sound, surprisingly like a wooden flute. Matt whispers high; a bit like Japan but more rhythmic. Then thick muddy grunts – a bass clarinet joins the fold. The pressure builds, reaching “Psycho” intensity as he sounds like a quartet. And the flute returns, low like an ocarina as he walks away. The last tune is pure classical, a mournful weep to the heavens. A simple, strong beauty; tools displayed elsewhere now work the tradition, to marvelous effect. I cannot believe it was improvised, but it was. Same with the multiple tones and versatility – a talent like this cannot be ignored. And hear the crowd – they don’t ignore him.

| Record Label: Meniscus | Style: Modern Jazz


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