Q&A: Jazz Bassist Matt Ulery Explores Chamber Scores with Solo Compositions
FROM ALARM MAGAZINE - February 2009 / - Scott Morrow
Bassist/composer Matt Ulery has spent the last half of this decade entertaining Chicago with his involvement in chamber-jazz outfit Loom, jazz and classical-guitar quartet Eastern Blok, and other exceptional endeavors.
Now, following the recent release of Loom’s Music Box Ballerina album, Ulery is releasing a CD of beautiful, composed scores that are intended for film. The album, Themes and Scenes, contains seven pieces that are arranged for strings, brass, and percussion and accompanied by Wurlitzer electronic piano.
Interestingly, Ulery wrote almost all of the music for Themes and Scenes on the Wurlitzer, which blends into the mix perfectly with the otherwise completely acoustic instrumentation. Online editor Scott Morrow caught up with Ulery to discuss the creation of the album and how it will be implemented live.
What was the impetus for writing Themes and Scenes?
I wanted to write music for film. Because no one was knocking on my door asking for an original score for their movie, I decided to just write some potential film music.
I have been writing a lot of music specifically for my band, Loom. Loom is more of a modern chamber jazz group, and it is a great outlet for me as a bassist and composer to write music for me and my friends to play.
Lately, though, besides writing for Loom and having a hand in writing and arranging for Eastern Blok, I found myself more and more inspired by music in film and how effective it can be as a supportive role or even on its own.
What does this project allow you to accomplish that your work with Loom and Eastern Blok does not?
It allows me to explore a whole other outlet of musical creativity. As a bassist and impoviser, I have a lot of great opportunites to play and communicate with other musicians on a very personal and often intimate level.
Because the music on Themes and Scenes is almost entirely composed, I feel as though I have complete control of the mood and direction of the music — not to say that I don’t completely love the unpredictable nature of playing more improvised music or rock. I guess that I’m just really interested in very deliberate music.
If you could create visual accompaniment to Themes and Scenes, what would it be?
If I had the means and skills, I would probably be making movies and writing scores like those of [Francis Ford] Coppola. But really, I would like to see some or all of these pieces placed in film or TV, in the right setting, of course.
Ideally, If given the opportunity, I would like see one of these tracks as a theme for a movie, and I could develop it into the rest of the score as musical interludes and other subservient musical gestures and support.
Do you envision Themes and Scenes being a one-off album or the start of a regular project?
I don’t know if I’ll title another album the same, but yes, I will be putting out more music like this, most likely with similar instrumentation. I am working right now on the next one and hope to release it next year after I make another record each with Loom and Eastern Blok.
How much time do you spend arranging these type of compositions?
I spend anywhere between five minutes and five hours a day working on these. Usually, when I start or even when I finish a new piece of music, I don’t necessarily know what I’m going to do with it — whether I’m hearing if for Loom, Eastern Blok, or something totally different.
When I get a better idea of what I could do with a given piece or song, then I really start thinking about the orchestration, and the arrangement develops pretty naturally. I guess that I decided to pursue making Themes and Scenes because I just wanted to do something with all this paper lying around the house.
How will you go about preparing Themes and Scenes for this summer’s live presentation?
I am working on a big concert to perform this and other new music that I’ve been working on since I finished this recording. I’m talking to the great people at the Chicago Cultural Center about a date and the right venue — maybe Millennium Park, one of the most beautiful venues in the country and perhaps the world.
Though all of the music is written out and realized for a live orchestra, most of it was overdubbed in the studio at The Drake with a very creative engineer, Anthony Gravino — meaning that when you see that Thad Franklin plays trumpets and flugel horns, it means there might be up to six or eight of him at a time.
It was a very fun process for all of us, I think. For the live performance, I plan on putting together an orchestra to cover all the parts, roughly 20 pieces. Before this, I plan to host a CD-release listening party this spring. I’m just working on securing the exact date.