By Bob Doerschuk | Published October 2019
With plenty of buzz already behind him, 18-year-old Matthew Whitaker lives up to expectations on Now Hear This. He plays with fluency on piano and organ, dividing his time about equally between the two. However, his approach to each instrument is distinctive, emphasizing melodic adventurousness on the former. On the B-3, he concentrates on texture, with thick blankets of harmony on the lower manual supporting more traditional lines and tremolo applications.
On both his well-conceived originals and covers, Whitaker’s performance is all about honoring the contours of the tune. And at no point does the bandleader try to dazzle listeners with just his chops. It seems less a matter of limitation than intention, which his trio clearly understands.
In particular, Ulysses Owens Jr. tunes directly into Whitaker’s wavelength. On only one track, a fiery take on “Freedom Jazz Dance,” do his drums lock down on a basic beat. And that allows room for Whitaker to alternate between staccato scratches and muscular long lines on organ. But the best moment here also is the sparest, an organ/drum duet on “The Blood Will Never Lose The Power,” whose spirit-raising ecstasy is a perfect launchpad for all that’s yet to come from this exceptional pianist.
Now Hear This: Overcoat; Tranquility; Underground; Bernie’s Tune; Yardbird Suite; U.M.M.G.; Miss Michelle; Thinking Of You; Emotions; Caribe; Black Butterfly; Freedom Jazz Dance; The Blood Will Never Lose The Power. (71:54)
Personnel: Matthew Whitaker, keyboard; Dave Stryker, guitar; Yunior Terry, bass; Ulysses Owens Jr., drums; Sammy Figueroa, percussion; Marc Cary, keyboard (11); Gabrielle Garo, flute (3).