Woodwork by Matthew Stevens
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1. Ashes (one)
2. Star L.A.
7. Gut Check
9. Ashes (two)
11. Grown Ups
12. Uptown Dance Party
Official worldwide release date - May 26, 2015
NYC-based Guitarist and composer Matthew Stevens is heralded as one of the most promising young artists in contemporary jazz music through his associations with NEXT Collective, Christian Scott, Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Walter Smith III, and Harvey Mason. Now Stevens comes fully into his own with his debut recording as a leader, Woodwork. The album showcases Stevens’ diverse influences, his warm, robust sound, and his fluid, emotive playing at the helm of a stellar quintet which features multiple Grammy-nominated pianist Gerald Clayton, bassist Vicente Archer, drummer Eric Doob and percussionist Paulo Stagnaro.
The album’s title, Stevens says, reflects the almost tactile way in which he creates music. “It’s a metaphor for how I see myself interacting with sound. Woodwork is an act of creation in collaboration with the natural world; it invokes a sense of being handmade or one of a kind. These raw materials exist regardless of whether or not you do something with them, so I try to respect that and let the music unfold naturally.”
Woodwork places the sound of Stevens’ guitar front and center, achieving a full-bodied resonance that captures the immersive feeling of a live concert experience. “When you listen to a saxophone or a trumpet, you often feel like you’re right there in the room with no buffer,” Stevens explains. “There’s a real sense of immediacy when you hear them on record, and I miss that on the guitar. As a guitarist, your touch and articulation contribute hugely to your identity as an instrumentalist, so if you have none of that air in the sound you lose a lot of nuance. I put a microphone in front of my guitar as well as the amp so it didn’t just feel in your face, but like the music was alive and moving around in the room.”
A self-described guitar fanatic who fell in love with his father’s Jimi Hendrix records as a child and never looked back, Stevens purposely assembled his band to allow the guitar to express his melodies alone. His strings shimmer over percussive interplay on opener 'Ashes One,' then weave a hypnotic groove on 'Star L.A;' they sing the folk-inspired melody of the title track and roar on the album’s driving composition, 'Uptown Dance Party.' The elusive 'Sunday' continues the genre-bridging mission of the NEXT Collective with a haunting David Bowie cover, while 'Blasted' pays homage to Wayne Shorter with its churning, circular melody. Stevens was recently invited by musical director Terri Lyne Carrington to perform at a fundraiser for the upcoming documentary Wayne Shorter: Zero Gravity alongside an all-star lineup including Shorter, Hancock, Spalding, Marcus Miller, Lalah Hathaway,Corrine Bailey Rae, Lizz Wright and Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Stevens possesses a rare ability to marry singable melodies with cerebral complexity, as on the tense, shifting 'Sequel' or the knotty 'Grown Ups.' A through-composed duo for guitar and piano, 'Gently' mesmerizingly interlaces Stevens’ and Clayton’s expressive lines. 'Brothers,' performed as a trio with Archer and Doob, embraces the sound of the acoustic guitar from the blossoming resonance to the scrape of fingers on strings. And this was no ordinary acoustic guitar; much of the album was recorded at the Clubhouse Studio in Rhinebeck, New York, which just happens to own an early-70s Lowden formerly played by late folk legend Pete Seeger. It was that axe that Stevens reverently wielded for this song. “Collectively we were each able to tap into what we all think is important musically,” Stevens says. “In my own experience there’s nothing that feels more exciting than that.”
Video premier for 'Processional'
"Possessing a truckload of chops tempered with exquisite taste and a composer's vision, Matthew Stevens makes his startling debut as a leader with Woodwork... Stevens has fashioned a fresh group sound here with the contributions of stellar sidemen."
★★★★½ Downbeat Magazine
"Matthew Stevens is a young guitarist who navigates with ease among jazz, indie-rock and soul... Here he draws from his own assured new album, Woodwork, re-enlisting its excellent rhythm section: Gerald Clayton on acoustic and Fender Rhodes piano, Vicente Archer on bass, and Eric Doob on drums."
The New York Times (live preview)
"Matthew Stevens has become one of the world's most exciting up-and-coming jazz guitarists."
"Stevens incorporates a range of influences, including Americana and fusion flavors. There’s a density to his compositions that gives them an intellectual heft, but the mood is lightened thanks to the fluidity of the solo segments, including [Gerald] Clayton’s fiery, improvised lines on “Grown Ups.” Stevens can write a memorable melody, as he does on the title track, which melds an accessible theme with unpredictable, intricate solos."
Editor's Choice, Downbeat Magazine
"[Steven's] debut is called Woodwork, an amalgamation of modern jazz and neo-fusion elements which showcase the guitarist’s sonic versatility and savvy producing chops."
"Guitarist Matthew Stevens never fails to impress... this one has been a long time coming. Stevens has been lighting up the scene for a while and is always a delight to hear whenever he steps out front, especially as a leader."
"Stevens has vaulted quickly to the forefront of his jazz generation... distinctive originality... Stevens’ sense of drive and commitment help make the music as lucid as it needs to be and then some."
"Matthew Stevens is a dedicated young guitarist who has been making waves in the world of jazz through his guitar wizardry and collaborations with folks like Esperanza Spalding."
"A go-to sideman makes a smart, stirring bid for the spotlight... he’s been subtly tweaking the standard ideas of how a guitar can work..."
"Not predictable or following well trodden paths, but his own distinct statement... his (Stevens) sound incorporates all the elements of jazz today."
Jazz Flits (NL)
"This is a fine showcase for his (Steven's) writing, playing and his sound."
“Woodwork” represents a hugely impressive leadership début from Stevens who scores highly as both a guitarist and a composer. His tunes embrace a wide variety of moods and styles and the writing is reflected in the playing with Stevens delivering an impressive variety of guitar sounds, both electric and acoustic. His playing is refreshingly cliché free and on this album Stevens distinguishes himself as one of the most original guitar players around."
★★★★ The Jazz Mann
"His debut as a leader at the relatively advanced age of 34 has been worth the wait, putting an impressive technical command of the instrument at the service of gnarled up-tempo grooves and soaring, emotive melodies."
★★★★ The Irish Times
"The crisp recording captures the sound of the band beautifully... an extremely accomplished debut.”
“An impressive debut from a musician with real flair and imagination."
★★★★★ Jazz Journal
"Stevens delivers a controlled, multi-faceted approach which offers up hitherto unsuspected timbres and nuances in his playing."
"Fluent, emotive guitar playing leading a brilliant quartet."
"[Woodwork] cohesively explores multiple genres… An interesting and varied album."
"[Stevens] has an open, loose yet funky playing style and a tight ensemble sound."
"With sometimes complex, sometimes elaborate yet thoughtful melodies, Stevens draws characterful contributions from colleagues Gerald Clayton and Vicente Archer."
"An example of how high quality and interesting jazz fusion can be today."
Musik an Sich
"No need to fear contemporary jazz music when it's blessed with passionate young musicians such as Stevens."
"Particularly stylish when Stevens reaches for his acoustic guitar."
Sound and Image
"Our guitarist of the year, if not the decade. "
"Technical expertise, sophisticated compositions and harmonically diverse melodies."
"Contemporary, soulful jazz away from the usual, intellectual and well-trodden paths of the mainstream."
"His [Stevens] debut as a leader is as ingenious as it is intoxicating."