Pianist Matt Piet’s Feats of Coordination

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In the past, improvising pianist Matt Piet’s worked alongside jugglers on a cruise ship. His recent output’s more impressive than those feats of coordination, though.

Last year, the Chicago-based pianist contributed to a handful of albums on Clean Feed and Astral Spirits, and now is preparing to release Four Letter Words’ Pinch Point (Amalgam), a recording with tenor saxophonist Jake Wark and drummer Bill Harris, on April 13. Piet recently took some time to chat with DownBeat about not backing away from the music and finding a place in the Chicago improvised music scene.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Is releasing all this music during the past two years you trying to piece together life as a jazz player in Chicago?

Yeah, exactly. I was kind of the fill-in-guy for a lot of things [on cruise ships], whether it was, you know, a jazz quartet that needed someone at the last minute for two months or they needed a solo pianist or they needed someone to lead a band for a while or something. So, they kept firing people and then hiring me for these two months periods. And the travel was something that was hard to turn down, because I was in like 55 different countries in four years’ time. But while I was in between those things is when [Chicago venue] Constellation opened.

The catalyst for me discovering the Chicago improvised music scene was seeing Josh Berman and His Gang, which had everybody in it—so many different great musicians. ... It was June 15, 2013; I remember it well, and I was just like, ‘OK, there’s something going on here in this scene. I’ve got to discover what it is.’ It took me a year to eventually get out of this other job and get myself into it.

But then in 2014, I started to go to jam sessions and started to go to as many shows as I possibly could to discover who the people on the scene were. And then all the recording came out of feeling like I was catching up or making up for lost time in my 20s. I hadn’t recorded anything at all. And then between 2016 and 2018, I think I recorded something like 10 hours worth of improvised music, which is pretty insane. I did it largely to you know, to get myself out there. But also so I wouldn’t be able to back away from it.

It seems like there’s been increased attention from outside the area focused on Chicago’s improv and jazz scenes. So, how do you think you fit into that?

I just see myself as part of a lot of younger players that are trying to do a similar thing.

I met a lot of folks when I first moved here and first started playing that were, you know, in their 20s or early 30s, who were just hungry for it. And I’m hungry to collaborate. Then there’s this generation about 10 years ahead of me—guys like Dave Rempis and Tim Daisy. And I started to collaborate with them and found that they had the kind of spirit that was open to taking in someone like me.

So, City In A Garden is an attempt to document you engaging players here?

That’s exactly what it is, yeah. It was sort of an attempt to recreate what I found in jam sessions, but in a studio environment. And so for me, the players on the album, there’s a lot of like cross references [among musicians] ... .

So, we could have a band like The Few all documented on there. And that’s Macie Stewart, Charlie Kirchen and Steve Marquette, but they’re all playing in different configurations with me. And you have my band, Four Letter Words, on there as well. And you have my piano trio that I had started to document there. But then you have the piano trio, plus Gerrit Hatcher. But Gerrit Hatcher and Julian Kirshner have a duo together. So, I wanted to have as many Point A to Point B, and Point B to Point C as could be going on.

In essence, it’s an album where maybe I’m the featured player, but you could see any of these people forming a group with each other at any given time. And that’s actually happening, you know, that actually has been happening.

Rummage Out grooves more than Pinch Point. Was that the aim of the project or was that just how it turned out when you all recorded?

That was just like magic, you know? That was me trying to be as ambitious as I possibly could be in asking people [to collaborate]. It was sort of like me asking other musicians out on a date and seeing if they’d say, “Yes,” because, Josh Berman, Nick Mazzarella and Tim Daisy were the improvising leaders that I had seen in Chicago. And so I asked those three people ... and then the sets that made up Rummage Out were just what happened without any direction.

I didn’t direct anyone and it ended up being much more groovy and spiritual then what I would have imagined. It was just something that turned out brilliantly; something magical happened and I was just thrilled to document it. And you know, that happened pretty much contemporaneously with the recording sessions for City In A Garden.

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