Dmitri Matheny, Cascadia
Origin, June 2022
BY MATTHEW ADKINS
You don’t get much smoother than the sound of a flugelhorn, particularly when it’s in the hands of a master like Dmitri Matheny. Those warm, velvety tones are on full display in Dmitri Matheny Group’s most recent album, Cascadia. This collection of tunes is so laid back it might almost be horizontal. Yet, for a wonder, it manages to achieve a remarkable clarity of expression reminiscent of Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue.
Despite a wonderfully languid delivery, there’s nothing muddy here. All five voices come across plainly and the melodies are vivid and distinct. Matheny is particularly well-matched with saxophonist Charles McNeal, whose breathy delivery on the soprano and tenor saxes blends perfectly with his flugelhorn, whether the two are backing one another up, playing in unison, or stacked in beguiling harmony. Meanwhile, the rhythm section of Bill Anschell on piano, Phil Sparks on bass, and Mark Ivester on drums holds everything tightly together, while still managing to shine individually in carefully placed breakout moments. This is jazz at its most listenable. There are free-form moments here and there, where the group pushes the envelope for a handful of bars, but always they return quickly to a relaxed groove woven out of soft melodies and soothing rhythms.
In terms of the specific pieces, there are a variety of flavors here—from the bluesy aroma of “Lonesome Road” (a Matheny original) to the easy country-rock taste of Jimmy Webb’s classic, “Wichita Lineman.” In addition to Webb, the group covers John Coltrane’s “After the Rain” and Tadd Dameron’s “On a Misty Night”. All in all, it’s an eclectic mix. Front to back, though, Matheny and company imbue everything with their own signature sound. In fact, their best work happens on the Anschell piece, “Humble Origins,” as well as on Matheny’s six compositions, which include the bossa nova “Pretty Peaches,” the ballad “Dark Eyes”, the jazz shuffle, “Evergreen Girl,” and the elegy for Anthony Bourdain titled simply “Bourdain.” While it’s always nice to come across recognizable standards, these latter songs all have the advantage of having been written specifically with the group’s several strengths in mind: its cohesion, its tasty sense of melody and harmony, and, of course, Matheny’s achingly smooth flugelhorn sound.
To celebrate the release, Matheny and crew will be going on a month-long tour around the state and surrounding, kicking off with a release show on July 9 at Calluna and ending back in Seattle at The Royal Room on July 23.