Blindfold Test: Matt Brewer


Matt Brewer

(Photo: Carlin Ma/Courtesy SFCM)

Bassist Matt Brewer, 37, is widely respected for the technical wizardry and wide musical scope he has brought to a panoply of sideman engagements with, as he put it, “people who write challenging music.” In addition to being a member of the SFJAZZ Collective, Brewer is an esteemed educator on the faculty of San Francisco Conservatory of Music. The most recent of his three leader albums on Criss Cross Jazz is Ganymede, a trio date with tenor saxophonist Mark Shim and drummer Damion Reid.

Dave Holland/Zakir Hussain/Chris Potter

“Ziandi” (Good Hope, Edition, 2019) Holland, bass; Potter, tenor saxophone; Hussain, tabla, percussion.

The way the vamp was set up sounds like something Dave Holland would do. Sounds like an 11-beat cycle. Dave has experimented for a long time playing different meters, and he’s still pushing himself. His playing always has this pristine quality—a refined, pretty sound, that never feels strained or like he’s playing too hard. In the solo, he has a very fast vibrato; everything is very controlled, pristine, kind of perfect.

That must be Zakir Hussain, a modern master of music, and it’s obviously Chris Potter, also a modern master. It’s an interesting instrumentation: Not having a chordal instrument presents a lot of challenges, but the harmony was clear, and you didn’t feel like you missed any chords.

Rodney Whitaker

“Just Squeeze Me” (All Too Soon: The Music Of Duke Ellington, Origin, 2019) Whitaker, bass; Brian Lynch, trumpet; Richard Roe, piano; Karriem Riggins, drums.

Is that “Just Squeeze Me”? I liked the drummer, really swinging but also understated and relaxed—a light, bright cymbal sound that allows the bass to speak and doesn’t get in the way of the low frequencies.

The bass player has nice facility in the higher register. He sounds like he’s coming from Ray Brown, with the right-hand articulation, clear punctuation and clean, crisp sound that Ray got from Jimmy Blanton. Sometimes people play the bass too hard to prove how great their beat is; here, the beat feels relaxed, without trying too hard to swing.

Christian McBride’s New Jawn

“Sightseeing” (Christian McBride’s New Jawn, Mack Avenue, 2018) McBride, bass; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone; Josh Evans, trumpet; Nasheet Waits, drums.

This is Christian—New Jawn. I don’t think anybody [else] has that right-hand facility. He articulates so cleanly and so quickly. He’s also coming out of Ray in placing the beat and the percussive element of his sound. He’s clearly one of the great virtuosos of our time. Nasheet is one of my favorite people to play with—super swinging and super open. With him or Christian, no matter how abstract or complicated or free the music is, there’s some underpinning of groove and swing—some dance element. That track was a great example. It could go a million places and never really lose that thread.

The trumpet solo was ridiculous, too. Is this a tune from a Miles [Davis] record? Obviously, nobody [here] sounds like anybody in Miles’ band, but it’s reminiscent of Miles’ second quintet. It’s fun to hear Christian play this open. He can do anything.

Edward Simon/Scott Colley/Brian Blade

“Kingpin” (Steel House, ArtistShare, 2017) Simon, piano; Colley, bass; Blade, drums.

That’s Scott Colley. Brian Blade’s cymbal sound is unmistakable. Ed Simon on piano. I could tell it was Scott from the particular way his notes bloom; when he plays 16th-note ideas, they’re very clean but with a certain dynamic shape. Nice tune. I loved when it went to the release, the pretty changes, for a nice contrast after that long vamp in C-minor. Ed and Brian are such good accompanists. Ed is so strong rhythmically, so sensitive and funky, that you can take the music anywhere, and he has such a great touch. Brian is also incredibly sensitive, with a huge dynamic range and such a pretty drum sound.

Michael Formanek’s Elusion Quartet

“Culture Of None” (Time Like This, Intakt, 2018) Formanek, bass; Tony Malaby, tenor saxophone; Kris Davis, piano; Ches Smith, drums.

I really liked that pointillistic melody at the end, which I would not have expected, given how the piece started. The whole form was interesting. I like the way the tenor player managed to play in a melodic, expressive way in the midst of music that I love but might be challenging for some people. Was it Malaby? Is Michael Formanek the bassist? Great bass player. Great sound. I know him more from his older records. Was this his composition? I dug the intervals he chose.

Was it Craig Taborn on piano? [after] “Kris is a great piano player … . The few times we’ve played together, she’s been amazing.

Peter Slavov

“Bye” (Little Stories, Slavov Music, 2019) Slavov, bass; John Ellis, bass clarinet; Nitzan Gavrieli, piano; Diego Ramirez, drums.

Very strong bass playing. Eric Revis? Good intonation. Great sound. I like the composition a lot. At the beginning, I enjoyed the combination of bass and bass clarinet. It’s an interesting sound that you don’t often hear, and they blended well—smart use of orchestration. Joe Sanders? He put out a record that has bass clarinet. I have no idea who it is.

Tiger Trio

“Honesty” (Map Of Liberation, RogueArt, 2019) Jöelle Léandre, bass; Myra Melford, piano; Nicole Mitchell, flute.

I dug that. I have no idea who it is, but the bass player has a really good sound with the bow, excellent intonation. Obviously, someone who’s studied the bow. You could categorize this music as experimental or avant-garde, but there was a good blues element in it—it was still very grounded. The blues is also very experimental and avant-garde. I liked hearing that aspect in this performance. DB

The “Blindfold Test” is a listening test that challenges the featured artist to discuss and identify the music and musicians who performed on selected recordings. The artist is then asked to rate each tune using a 5-star system. No information is given to the artist prior to the test.

This story originally was published in the July 2020 issue of DownBeat.

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