I had the chance to take bassist and composer Matt Ulery’s album By A Little Light for a spin yesterday and have fallen more than a little in love with it, and not just because it features eighth blackbird, the sextet that’s held an Ensemble-in-Residence position at the University of Richmond since 2003 and probably holds the record for mentions on Artsline, WCVE’s daily arts and cultural calendar.
For me, the work’s most remarkable quality, aside from its outright beauty, is the way it allows for originality and brightness to flow through one another.
I know I’m painting with broad, relatively sophomoric strokes in saying this, but I can’t help feeling that contemporary jazz and classical, in their respective quests for new and interesting real estate, often set out to hew the roughest parts of the musical landscape, where dissonance and difficulty roam freely and campers hang their food from tree branches before turning in for the night. That’s not to say that everything has to be in a major key and played with a smile, but I do think there’s an extra degree of difficultly in making a composition that’s so interesting sound so pleasing, and Ulery deserves a great deal of credit for deftly walking that line.
He also deserves credit for his use of melody, which has a wonderful, linear quality that binds the entire collection. There’s something to be said for making a stylistic swirl this diverse feel so seamless, as it would be easy for the different sections to drift apart on a sea of their divergent personalities. But By A Little Light feels whole, thanks to a progression of melodic ideas that feel like siblings and cousins in one big, happy family.
Check out “To Lose Your Mind” to get a taste of what I’m talking about, but I highly recommend giving the whole thing a listen. It’s a stunning statement, one I feel truly lucky to have heard before it’s too late to put it on a year-end list of my own.