Opus: A Most Exquisite Work by Andrei Matorin
It is common for composers to title their work Opus and number them in sequence according to their creation. But the title of jazz violinist Andrei Matorin’s debut work, Opus, marks a great work and a most profound labor of love. The eight-song album is a complex blend of romantic jazz balladry, be-bop, and some very remarkable touches that are pure Matorin.
Andrei Matorin came to the US from Brazil when he was five years old and almost immediately started his classical violin education. That eventually led him to studies in Italy and Switzerland, and most surprisingly into jazz where he continued to excel. He was the first violinist to complete the Jazz Certificate Program of New England Conservatory’s Preparatory School in Boston (and did so in half of the time most students did with departmental honors). When the Berklee College of Music came courting him, he plunged headlong into his studies, earning a degree in Jazz Composition and Performance. Today, he teaches private lessons and performs in a number of small combos in the Boston and New York area, something he has been doings since he was 15.
With his technical background and the freedom of jazz composition and improv, he has crafted a deliciously inviting jazz album. In order to bring out the strengths of his work, Matorin brought in three equally adept musicians to help him present these eight songs. Israeli-born Dan Pugach, also a Berklee grad, handles drums with inventiveness and delicate touch, and Luques Curtis shows his bass chops here. Curtis, who originally had a background in piano and percussion, switched to bass and never looked back. His skills enhanced Brian Lynch's Grammy winning CD Simpatico. Then there is Takeshi Ohbayashi who has been playing classical piano since was two. Like many young performers, though, he was lured by another instrument. In his case it was the trumpet when he was 12.
At the heart of Opus, however, is Matorin’s violin that sometimes sweeps the listener away to other realms as in “One Last Song.” Here Ohbayashi’s piano is a pleasant undertone, carrying its own distinct melody while Matorin soars above it in its own dreamy, moody way. Sometimes it weeps and then growls in a counterpoint statement as in “Coming Home.” And sometimes it almost drops into gypsy violin as in “Trancoso.”
Though Andrei Matorin composed and produced the album, it is not self-indulgent. All eight tracks are complex works that were not created solely to showcase Matorin’s violin. He has crafted every piece and every track to produce the effect he wanted, allowing each of his fellow musicians to shine.
For example, “Hymn No. 1” is a tight brisk piece, allowing all of the players to bring their skills to the front. Curtis’ bass runs are a lively backdrop to Ohbayashi’s intricate piano. All the while, Pugach’s delicate drum work keeps the whole musical train on the track while he adds embellishments that aren’t based on ego or upstaging. Pugach knows his instrument and elicits nuances from it that some drummers, given the opportunity for solo work as in this cut, would have just beat the hell out of his skins. Instead, Pugach coaxes variety from his drumkit. There is also a sweet conversation between Matorin and Pugach that is a delight.
The last track, “Sunday Blues,” is a tip of the hat to vintage blues and jazz. Here two masters let their best chops out as they explore the melody lines Matorin has set forth. Curtis’ bass is intricate and proves that an upright bass can be a solo instrument, and Matorin’s bluesy violin is just sexy.
Andrei Matorin’s Opus is a masterwork that jazz enthusiasts will enjoy for its intricacies. And for jazz listeners, it will be a CD that will be in their permanent playlists. Very highly recommended.
Review by Janie Franz
Bridging The Gap From Yesterday To Today
Andrei Matorin appears to have been born (or at least raised) to be a jazz musician. Studying in such vaunted institutions as the Boston Center for the Arts, the Conservatoire de Geneve and the Berklee College Of Music, it’s likely Matorin has never experienced the starving artist phenomenon first hand, but his passion for jazz shines through every note and run on his debut album, Opus. The Brazilian-born Matorin was exposed to jazz at a young age by bassist and friend Josef Deas, who introduced Matorin to John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Oscar Peterson, Herbie Hancock and Ray Brown, among others. Matorin has never slowed down since, completing a dual program at Berklee in jazz composition and jazz performance as well as continuing to study and perfect his classical technique.
Opus opens with “Smile”, a friendly discussion between violin, piano, bass and percussion that grows into a near duet between the violin and piano, similar to two Broadway divas taking over the stage from lesser players in a finale. Offered in a wide-open arrangement with tremendous highs and lows, these peaks and valleys are measured more in intensity than volume. “Smile” is highly lyrical in both the violin and piano, with Dan Pugach’s polyrhythmic drum part punctuating their conversation like a color commentator while Luques Curtis glues together with a vital-yet-unassuming bass line. “Then And Now” finds Matorin’s violin taking on a slightly darker tone. Melodically reminiscent of some of Sting’s more esoteric forays into Jazz (or at least his band’s), there is a great deal of conflict and loss woven between the lines of the song; a current than runs deep beneath the surface but touches every note even if you never quite see it.
“Coming Home” is full of reverie and joyous moments are recalled in a musical line where echoes of times past weep from Matorin’s bow like a melancholy catharsis. Brighter thoughts ensue and inter-weave as the listener is turned to and fro by the juxtaposition of past and present in the song. Matorin and his band introduce a slinky, sneaky feel on “Silver Blue”, sounding like a score element from an old mystery film. This is great music for skulking by a pulp-fiction private eye, not dark or ominous but almost with a comic air at times. “Trancoso” is a vibrant dance with Matorin’s violin as the main voice, but Takeshi Ohbayashi steals the show in a supporting role on piano. Chaotic subtexts feed into a classic parlor jazz feel throughout the song. Matorin underscores the chaos in the final moments of Trancoso before ascending to sublime ending that marks release.
“One Last Song” is a wonderful change of pace;, a daydream in song that inspires images of summer days with lots of sunlight and high fluffy clouds where you can simply drift and let your mind wander where it will. Matorin is the prime mover here, waxing and waning like the breeze, but always present. The only offering on Opus that seems out of place is “Hymn No. 1”. Little about the song would suggest the contemplative or reverent nature of a hymn, and the composition fails any sort of coherency test. The focus here is on numbers: speed and how many notes Matorin can fit into a measure or line. Compared to everything else on Opus, “Hymn No. 1” sounds messy and incoherent. Matorin rights the ship however with the moody violin/bass duet “Sunday Blues”. “Sunday Blues” sounds like pure creation; it wouldn’t be at all surprising to learn that this recording was a one-off live improvosation between Matorin and Curtis. Curtis’ bass solo in the middle is pure chaos, something of a “huh?” moment but resolves back into the structure of the duet to close out.
Andrei Matorin is well-schooled in the art of Jazz, and his schooling shows throughout Opus, but there’s a quality that shines through here that simply cannot be taught. Matorin has a love of the music he plays that’s unparalleled, and displays flashes of genius born of love and intensity with the violin in his hand. Opus is highly creative, sticking primarily to a classic sense of jazz improvisation, digressing only when Matorin deems appropriate. Opus is an album that fans of modern jazz will be happy with, and even the stodgiest of jazz purists will gladly offer a space in their collection to.
Review by Wildy Haskell
You can learn more about Andrei Matorin at www.andreimatorin.com or www.myspace.com/amatorin. You can purchase Opus as either a CD or Download from Amazon.com.
A Rising Star
When one thinks of the violin, the first genre that is usually associated with it is classical music, or perhaps the old time fiddle playing of country or bluegrass. The violin is not as often found in a jazz context as other instruments such as saxophone, trumpet, piano, guitar, etc. However, there is a rich legacy of jazz violin that can be traced back to such artists as Stephane Grappelli, Joe Venuti, and Stuff Smith, leading up to more contemporary electric violinists like Jean Luc-Ponty. What is surprising and yet gratifying in today’s world of sample-based music and electronics is to see someone as young as Andrei Matorin embracing the roots of jazz and bringing his prodigious talents to bear in a more traditional setting.
However, his love affair with the violin did not begin with jazz. At the tender age of six, after moving to Boston from his native Brazil, Andrei began his studies of classical music. He eventually went on to years of formal musical education at prestigious conservatories in Italy and Switzerland before returning to the United States. It was at that point that he was exposed to the world of jazz and a new road beckoned. After further study of this art form at the New England Conservatory’s Jazz Program and the Berklee College Of Music, Andrei won numerous scholarships and awards. He has also garnered critical acclaim and was recognized as an “emerging jazz violinist” by The Boston Globe, who featured him twice in their “Critic’s Picks” column in recent years.
While Matorin is indeed the leader and focus of Opus, it is clearly an ensemble effort and he gives ample space and free reign to the rest of the talented musicians in the group. Sporting equally impressive credentials, talent, and youthfulness as Andrei, the rhythm section includes Luques Curtis on bass, Dan Pugach on drums, and pianist Takeshi Ohbayashi – all impressive musicians in their own right. Hearing them perform together, one would get the impression that they had honed their skills over decades of playing the club circuit, rather than being such relative newcomers.
One of the things that impressed me most about this recording was the fact that there was almost no editing done on it, something that is relatively rare in today’s computerized, “fix it in the mix” studio environment. Andrei’s goal was to “capture the moment and feeling of our performances in the studio... so that the listener could feel a part of the experience.” To that end, he has certainly achieved his objective.
Jazz is sometimes seen as intellectual or cerebral, and while there are those elements here, Andrei and ensemble also bring an emotive quality that is moving and soulful. Acoustic bass kicks off the opening track, “Smile” and leads the rest of the group into a lovely mid-tempo tune that is as warm and inviting as its name implies. At almost nine minutes in length, this song is the longest piece on the CD. Unlike many bandleaders, Andrei lays back quite a bit for the first half of the song before showing his colors on a solo about five minutes in. It is well worth waiting for and really grabs your attention when it first comes in, as well as in the way it evolves. The next song, “Then And Now” continues on a similar energy level as it winds through some interesting and intriguing chord changes and motifs. The pace slows down a bit on “Coming Home” which begins with a haunting violin solo and develops into a touching ballad. One of my favorite tunes on the CD is “Silver Blue” with its mellow groove that makes it hard not to nod your head or tap your foot to the beat. Another sweet ballad and a couple high spirited up-tempo numbers fill out the rest of the album that concludes with the aptly-named “Sunday Blues” which has an easy laid back feel and features a tasty duet of violin and acoustic bass.
Opus certainly lives up to its name and is an impressive achievement. Andrei Matorin has come a long way in a relatively short time, and with the rest of his career ahead of him, I’m sure that we’ll be hearing a lot more about this rapidly rising star.
Review by Michael Diamond