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Matt Ulery - 'In The Ivory'

Alex Marianyi
Staff Writer
alex.marianyi[at]gmail.com / @alexmarianyi

With new thoughts constantly coursing through his head and the many tangents resulting from seemingly foreign but actually quite astute connections, conversation with Chicago bassist and "editor of ideas" (composer) Matt Ulery can sometimes feel like you’re being drawn into entirely different levels of consciousness. Though I do highly recommend it, sitting with him at a bar in Chicago’s Wicker Park is not required to get that feeling. You can be drawn into Ulery’s unique plane of existence just by listening to his upcoming jazz-classical crossover1 double-album, In The Ivory.

One of the longest discussions we had was about the lyrics. While some may consider lyrics to be a hinderance to music, others don’t listen to music without them. Ulery, however, has created the lyrics and the music on this album to be on "equal levels". The lush poetry could certainly stand on its own, and the music is more than enough by itself on the wordless tracks. But when lyric meets music, when flesh meets bone with the tendon of vocal melody holding them together, a certain sorcery happens.

Very specific qualities, emotions, and states of consciousness are captured. A line occurs at an important moment in just the second cut, "There’s a Reason and a Thousand Ways". With only support from Ulery’s bass and, for the first time on the album, his voice, you hear Grazyna Auguscik sing, "I'm running out of time, and time is running out of me." In this moment, Ulery forces us to grapple with our mortality: "I’m running out of time..." But he also forces us to consider that time has its limitations, as well: "...and time is running out of me." As we measure our existence in time, does time measure its existence in us?

The consistency of this album astonishes me every time I listen to it. Through all the ups and downs, lefts and rights, and starts and stops, you never don’t hear Matt Ulery. Of course, he does this not only with his compositions but also by the musicians he’s chosen: his working rhythm section of many years and his friends that make up the Grammy award-winning eighth blackbird. The heartrending orchestral harmonies on "Longing", the bright, buoyant vocals of Sarah Marie Young on "The Farm", and every alto flute line and piano solo all outline a greater context, a larger environment that these songs were conceived in. That context is Ulery’s existence over the last couple of years. It's not an easy thing to articulate, but he has done so masterfully over these fourteen tracks.

This album is dramatic. With each melody, each track, each CD, Matt Ulery takes you by the hand and leads you through his world and his exploration of different levels of consciousness. You could be entering a new corner of physical space or crossing over to a realm that has only sound. Each listen provides a new journey to be taken. This is the release you listen to on a slow Saturday as you sip your morning tea, or you can use it to escape a stressful day as you commute home. I’ve done both myself and look forward to more adventures with In The Ivory.

You can pre-order Matt Ulery’s double-album In The Ivory on Bandcamp or iTunes. It drops on September 16th with a celebration in Chicago, IL, at The Green Mill on the 19th & 20th.


1. I hate to invoke a Kenny G Christmas album with this phrase, but it's the most succinct way of describing this album.

Alex Marianyi makes electronic music sitting in his living room. You can follow him on Twitter, and he won’t even file a restraining order.