"...a post-millennial Chet Baker...further polishes a trumpet and vocals package..." --The New York Times
“…radio-ready...his entire album pulses with the vibration of positive thinking…truly touches on brilliant originality...what Miles Davis might search for if the innovative jazz trumpeter were still alive.” –AXS
"...cutting edge...award winning jazz trumpeter with a well vetted resume brings his jazz trumpet to mingle with rap, shoegaze and Martian electronics..." --Midwest Record
"Matt Von Roderick Makes Jazz Dangerous Again" --The Huffington Post
Watch Matt's Music Videos:
LET THE TRUMPET TALK: www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6OiXc820Zg
MATT VON RODERICK – HERO'S JOURNEY
The Liner Notes, by Matt R. Lohr,
Contributing Writer; JazzTimes:
Remember that great new jazz tune you heard on the radio yesterday?
Don't be silly. Of course you don't.
In an earlier time, in the years surrounding the world wars, jazz was pop music. Hard-swinging, dance-driven numbers from major jazz orchestras filled the airwaves and jukeboxes. Artists like Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, and Chet Baker were rock stars before there were rock stars; their personas embodied a cool, style, and danger never before seen in popular culture. They were outlaws. Warriors. Heroes.
But over the decades, a sea change overtook jazz, and its present-day profile couldn't be more different. Gone are the days when commercial radio sounded forth with the hottest tracks from the hippest new artists on the scene. The mantle of musical outlaw has long been usurped by rock performers, and more and more frequently in today's industry climate by hip-hop artists, many of whom foster images (real or fabricated) as outlaws in the authentic, “F--- Tha Police” sense. Dance music is now driven by synthesized electronic rhythms and beats rather than syncopated live instrumentation. Jazz, once the engine of good times and celebration, is widely regarded as an esoteric art medium, impossible for “normal” people to understand and incapable of providing pure entertainment. It has been relegated to concert halls and theaters, and the number of old-school clubs that present the music in the kind of raw-dog atmosphere in which it was birthed is shrinking every year.
A 2015 year-end Nielsen report laid it out in black and white. Jazz is now America's least-consumed musical form, making up only 1.3% of total record sales for that year. (Neck-and-neck with this is classical music, another form predominantly driven by instrumental works. The implication seems to be that the average listener, when listening to music, won't know how to feel without a voice telling them how to feel.) Jazz-specific stations on streaming services still get the music out there, but the fact that you have to diligently seek it out, rather than it finding you, itself speaks to the form's diminished cultural role. And though there are plenty of jazz artists slugging it out, making passionately communicative music, good luck finding their sounds on the playlist rotations of the ever-dwindling number of terrestrial radio stations that still play jazz (almost all non-profit public ventures). The vast majority of these stations have forsaken their responsibility to break new artists and disseminate dispatches from the fresh frontiers of the music; instead, they pack their airtime with Billie, Bird, Trane, and the like. These stations proudly profess to “keep jazz alive”...but whole days can go by without you hearing any artists on their airwaves who are in fact still alive.
I'm not attempting to suggest that there is no value in honoring the deeds of the jazz forebears. They bravely forged the path down which the artists of today continue to tread. But those who are treading find fewer and fewer listeners paying heed, and a culture shoveling the fiction that one of its most vital and original creative forms has produced virtually nothing of value since Miles died. We may be approaching an era in which aspiring young musicians may think about pursuing the jazz way...and then realize, “What would be the point?”
Jazz needs to reclaim its place as a pure, directly communicative cultural force. It needs to grab the world by its lapels and remind them that it's as honest, daring, and powerful as it actually never stopped being. It needs to welcome, nurture, and embrace those artists who aren't afraid to grace the music with pop, hip-hop and dance-driven sensibilities. Who remember that jazz is broad and deep enough to accommodate theatricality, spectacle, and a touch of new-school glitz and glamour. Who seek out and ride that wave of sexual charge and unpredictability that galvanized the music's pop-days audiences.
Jazz needs new warriors.
Jazz needs new heroes.
Or, to make a long story short...jazz needs Matt Von Roderick.
Any listener who, upon first encountering Hero's Journey, feels that it's nothing but a pop or hip-hop record tarted up with “retro” jazz elements, does so at their extreme aesthetic peril. Von Roderick, born and formerly known as Matt Shulman, is as dyed-in-the-wool authentic as modern jazz musicians come. His CV boasts a degree from the Oberlin Conservatory, a master's in music via fellowship from NYU, and a finalist's finish at the Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition. He's worked with a murderer's row of no-fooling heavy-duty jazz cats, including pianists Brad Mehldau and Kenny Werner, virtuoso drummer/composer Antonio Sanchez, saxophonists Chris Potter and Lenny Pickett, and vocalist Nnenna Freelon, who showcased Matt on her Grammy-nominated album Soulcall. This authenticity can be richly heard in his instrumental solos and runs throughout this recording. His bridge on “All For You” evokes the burnished classicism of Harry James, while on “Believe” he uncorks a hard-and-fast arpeggiated run that calls to mind the daredevil pyrotechnics of Dizzy Gillespie and Freddie Hubbard. His growling melodic statement on the playfully erotic “Baby Got Jazz” is a contempo riff on a Duke Ellington-style sex anthem, and he even inflects “Coexistence,” the album's key instrumental showcase, with a touch of Herb Alpert's Latin flavor. And from stem to stern, even as it honors these predecessors without ever slipping into naked pastiche, Von Roderick's sound has a swaggering, yet boldly emotional truth-seeking force that is entirely his own.
But chops aren’t the only thing uniting Matt Von Roderick with the cats from whence he sprang. He also definitively honors their spirit of artistic exploration with this album's audacious marriage of serious, not-playing-around jazz power with up-to-the-minute electronic dance beats and production. The result is a musical concoction that reflects years deep in both New York and Los Angeles; a sound as much at home in a Brooklyn hard-jazz club as in the hottest dance palace in Hollywood. “Let the Trumpet Talk” is driven by a thumping, infectious bass-heavy synth groove; Von Roderick's video for this song was featured on CBSNews.com
and has received over 4 ½ million views on YouTube). The manic-panic “Cash Money” whips the listener through a thrillingly intense two minutes and five seconds of hurtling percussion and some of Von Roderick's hardest-edged jazz playing. And “Seize the Night” marries a Phil Spector “wall of sound” vibe with just enough mysterious electronic digressions to evoke a jazz-kissed Depeche Mode. To a less imaginative listener, the integration of these elements might seem incongruous, as if they threaten to damage the music's true “jazz” identity. And then you recall: That's what they said about Bitches Brew. That's what they said about Ornette Coleman. That's what they said about the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Rich, fruitful branches of a broad and unexpectedly multifaceted tree known as Jazz.
The fact that Hero's Journey is able to evoke so many styles and atmospheric contours, all while maintaining a coherent artistic sense, is a testament to the man behind the horn...and the mic. Von Roderick, more so than many of his jazz contemporaries, understands the importance of the artistic persona to the creator's work, and at all times his music is framed by and filtered through a Byron-meets-Bronson identity, equal parts gritty street intelligence and old-school romanticism. The swooning exultations of “Shine,” the album's showcase romantic ballad, purely express Von Roderick's core of being...but then, so do the slyly naughty lyrics he purrs throughout “Baby Got Jazz”: “Her body's like silk / Ooh, it's like bebop and milk.” (“Jazz” comes from a slang word for sex. Don't forget that. Von Roderick certainly hasn't.) “Let the Trumpet Talk” drives home his prowess as a nimble-tongued hip-hop MC, and he proves himself capable of vocal pyrotechnics just as spectacular as his horn on the falsetto refrain of “Believe” and the wild multiphonic effects he utilizes on several tracks, playing and singing simultaneously, his horn and voice creating two separate, hypnotic tones.
The feeling that brings Von Roderick's artistic self into focus, as it does for the album as a whole, is a bittersweet, bloody-but-unbowed optimism not enough deployed in any genre of contemporary music. It's there in the defiant self-confidence of “Undeniable,” a whimsical manifesto in which Von Roderick proclaims “I'm not some pop machine / I'm doing my thing.” It's there in the wryly wise exchange with a child that kicks off “Believe” (“Matt, do dreams really come true?” “Sure, kid...you just gotta believe”). And it's there, with a warm, enveloping richness, on “Life is Fun,” a track that combines a sunny-skies “na-na-na” vocal hook, a yearning muted trumpet solo, and Von Roderick's most purely earnest and hopeful lyrics of the recording:
Life is fun
All that you want has begun
Drop that conundrum
Just get up and run
Life is fun
Come, my friend, see what you've won
Just hit the drum
Don't get so spun
* * * * *
In the classic iteration of the Hero's Journey, as explicated by the late Joseph Campbell in his legendary book The Hero With a Thousand Faces, a Hero is called to adventure, then braves trial and tribulation to enter the Innermost Cave of the evil force that threatens the joy and happiness of his land. The battle is an arduous one, and costly, but when he emerges, he brings the “Elixir,” a weapon, a treasure, a vision, that spells salvation for his home and his people.
The Call: A dream of music.
The Cave: The slings and arrows of a musical world that seems to value nothing less than it does jazz.
The Battle: The long, tough, and real road that any true artist must walk down, with his body and in his soul.
And the Elixir...
You're about to listen to it.
Hero's Journey is nothing less than an act of musical deliverance...for those willing to be delivered.
So come, my friends...
And hear what you've won.
-Matt R. Lohr
Contributing Writer; JazzTimes