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‘LIVEWYRE: FROM THERE TO HERE’ BY BEN MATTHEWS

Ben Matthews - Photo by Tom Greble Photography
Ben Matthews - Photo by Tom Greble Photography

With the opening bars of Matthew’s latest offering, you’re immediately transported to another time and place. A softly teasing piano lulls you in, right before you’re thrown into a tasty groove. Matthews doesn’t mess around. He started the LiveWyre project in 2015 after years of playing strait-laced jazz gigs. With genre-blending influences like Esperanza Spalding, Pat Metheny, Robert Glasper, Herbie Hancock, Dirty Loops and Snarky Puppy, he felt his own work was missing creative expression. Although he describes his music as “pretty pointy at times,” he says his aim is to bring creativity, emotion and interaction into the music and that it’s all about balancing technicality with sensitivity.

LiveWyre: From There to Here is an emotional journey worth taking. It’s complex, virtuosic, yet accessible. Matthews plays seamlessly with contrasts in mood, texture, contour and levels of intensity. Even when it’s driving, with an energetic swing, it’s somehow chill. At times, the nostalgia is so strong you can smell it. And with a mix like smooth cognac, who wouldn’t want a taste?

“One of the jazz composers who first inspired me is Hiromi Uehara,” he says, “She’s so good at repurposing an idea. A slow, solemn bass line from one section becomes this beautifully uplifting, reharmonised melody later in the piece in a different time signature. She’s a master of thematic development. I try to take a leaf out of her book and manipulate an idea. What happens if I play it as a drone? What happens if I make it flowy? What happens if I play it half time or double time, and in a different register? How many different ways can I recreate this idea?” If that doesn’t work, he says, he bashes his head against a proverbial wall for weeks until jazz comes out.

Matthews’ previous solo work proves that he’s a master of playing with emotional storytelling and this creation is no exception. He is joined by Sean Little on saxophone, Dr. Daniel Susnjar on drums and Joe Southwell on electric bass. All four players are virtuosic without being showy; there’s an earnestness to every note. Drums and bass move in such perfect synergy, it’s hard to imagine them ever not having been together. Susnjar is a genius of rhythm. Southwell’s bass lines sing when he takes over the storyline. Little’s energy is confident, bold and, at times, raw. And Matthews’ own artistry is dynamic; cheeky, joyous vigour contrasts with an almost childlike sweetness. His piano is like sunlight on a lake.

The opening of “Here Again” makes you long for something that was always just a little beyond your reach. And then it gives it to you. Like a gentle hand on your forehead, telling you everything’s going to be all right. Time doesn’t matter in “Conduit.” What’s important is where you were standing that day, the last time you felt like this. “Or Had You Forgotten” ties the elements together from the visceral journey you’ve just been on. In case you’d forgotten.

The album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Brodie Stewart, himself an accomplished jazz pianist and composer. He brings a level of warmth, depth and clarity to the recording that ensures its pure listening pleasure. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard a drum kit sound so multidimensional. The artwork features an intriguing plasticine sculpture by interdisciplinary artist R.E. Smith, herself an orchestral composer and Fulbright Scholar.

LiveWyre: From There to Here launches Feb 17 at Lyric’s Underground in Maylands, Perth. Doors open at 7pm.

Tickets from Oztix.

Pre-order your copy here.   

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Aminah Hughes is a writer, director, musician and photographer. She is an avid sunset beach walker in her homeland of Australia and her adopted home of California.

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