The first time that I can remember hearing Matt Lavelle (1970, Paterson, NJ) was, I believe, in November of 1999 when he sent me a demo tape. I was immediately struck by the edge and volatility—of his trumpet work in particular. As is often the case, while the parts may be promising, putting all of the various elements into the right combination and setting can often be frustrating and time-consuming. But poorly conceived art published in haste continues to haunt one long after the importance of immediacy has passed. And, to be frank, over the next two years Matt and I didn’t always see eye to eye and, at times, became a bit testy with each other. Eventually the elements common to both of our interests came closer and closer until we found ourselves in respectful agreement without, I believe, any sense of compromise. Getting there was not always pleasant and, in fact, we pretty much lost contact with each other for nearly a year. Then, in July of 2001, Matt reinitiated contact and sent me a tape and a letter saying, in part, “I added a firestorm sax player and talked to my man, Lou Grassi, who was down and (this) really brings out the best in everyone…”. Matt clearly felt “this is the one!” and I concurred: composition and exposition and finally the right group all in alignment. I was convinced and I thought I conveyed that to Matt, but either I was not clear or Matt was so conditioned to my qualified enthusiasm that he didn’t hear it. As if unleashed, he just kept sending me more rehearsal and performance tapes of the quartet. His letters were full of enthusiasm, often bursting with the passion of epiphany. Finally, in November, he stopped long enough to schedule this recording session, one that I have looked forward to with growing anticipation of great music and, yes—as always—some anxiety.
Except for Lou Grassi (1947, Summit, NJ), the veteran of the group and leader and sideman on a number of CIMP sessions, the rest of the group is largely unknown to me or to most of the public at this time. Ras Moshe (1968, NYC, NY) is just beginning to emerge from the New York City pot. Both Ras’ father and grandfather played professionally and, aside from those familial associations, he is a self-taught musician. Francois Grillot (1955, Burgundy, France), previously involved in the fusion scene of the ‘70s and ‘80s, came to the USA in 1980 and studied with Ed Summerlin and Stan Persky and, while recording infrequently, has been active in the NYC scene.
As for the leader, Matt toured Russia with his (Nyack, NY) high school band before playing with, and being mentored by, Hildred Humphries (Pittsburgh), a journeyman saxist who worked with a number of the mainstream legends and who, Matt says, taught him “what Swing was all about.” Following that, Matt organized a weekly jam session at Rainy Daze (NYC) that lasted about 18 months and where he began playing with Francois.
This group arrived mid afternoon, amiable and energized and rather conversant in some of the minutiae and history of improvised music, immediately relating and responding to the environment of The Spirit Room and its attachments. The sound check suggested a quartet with a very large sound, at times sounding like a hard blowing group of much bigger size. Things backed off a bit when we began the actual session and it took close to an hour before all of the parts came together (the precise moment coming on Roy Campbell), and it was during the second take that Lou and I caught each other’s eye and gave each other a nod of recognition. There’s a patience often necessary in capturing this music, one that—when allowed—pays off.
This is not a group that has clearly defined parameters, and for me that’s part of the appeal; it’s a bit off balance. Listen to Amadou’s Passage. Ras’ composition is set in a universally appealing swagger, but his tenor solo is a bit otherworldly and at times almost sounds lost, but resolves itself and turns what seemed, for me, near confusion into forceful statement. This is then taken in another direction with Matt’s raw and edgy trumpet work resolved, albeit briefly, by the rhythm before again suggesting unbalance then finally resolving the whole at its end. If your ears have become lazy, this should challenge. It is the essence of discovery in Jazz: not comfortable, not necessarily meant to be, but very compelling. And it is at the essence of what first attracted me to Matt’s work, that outward bound-ness, a confident foolishness that keeps you on the edge of attention with the relaxation coming after the conclusion.
The two days of recording were a laboratory of discovery. Much did not work; well, it worked by average standards, but it’s the above average that we aim for and that Matt, Ras, Francois, and Lou nailed over and over. Not always refined but very real. Creative improvised music is, at its genesis, not about refinement but about handling the moment and doing it with honesty, passion and musicality. Matt and his men offer up much to celebrate.
Matt Lavelle © 2015 | created by design4music.org