Downbeat feature on Matt Bauder by Peter Margasak

Reedist Matt Bauder has three albums already out, or on their way, in 2010, all of which establish his vast and diverse talent. Yet by the time they’ve arrived, the average listener might be confused about just who this guy is. Since debuting in 2003 with Weary Already Of The Way (482 Music), an original computer piece built from extended free improvisation, he’s deliberately kept his range unpredictable.

“I have given a lot of thought to that, and I see things more of a longhaul situation,” Bauder said.

His quintet’s debut album, Day In Pictures (Clean Feed), arrives as his first jazz qua jazz record, flush with elegant changes, swing time and sleek melodies all steeped in postbop fundamentals. His other recordings are far more elusive. The music on Paper Gardens (Porter), cut with fellow reedist Matana Roberts, cellist Loren Dempster and bassist Reuben Radding, veers towards chamber music shaped with generous improvisation, while Creeks (Broken Research), the third album by his long-running trio with percussionist Aaron Siegel and bassist Zach Wallace called Memorize the Sky, melds open-ended free improv with a strong evocation of the AACM’s little instruments, with spacey electronic elements and a broad spatial spectrum.

For Bauder, it’s all jazz. “I’m a product of what the jazz tradition has become,” he said. “I do see myself as a jazz musician because I’ve studied it a lot and I started out learning to play in jam sessions as a teenager. When I go to make a record I think openly because of how much is out there, but I think it’s all influenced by jazz.”

Bauder also discouraged reading too much into any given recording.

“The thing with records is that it might look like you’ve made a departure because you’re making this kind of music, your interests have shifted, but to the artist making them it’s not always that cut and dry,” Bauder said. “Some people make records that are reactions to certain things, but for me it’s more that a specific album is what I want to hear. It’s not anti-jazz or mean that I’m making a traditionalist statement by writing a song that has changes.”

In fact, Bauder’s full range of activities encapsulate those intentions. He’s a member of Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, an out salsa band led by Taylor Ho Bynum and percussionist Abraham Gomez Delgado called Positive Catastrophe, Harris Eisenstadt’s Canada Day and Anthony Braxton’s Trillium E Orchestra, and he regularly subs in the Broadway musical Fela! In addition to his jazz education, Bauder studied composition and electronic music at Wesleyan University and spent a year at the progressive ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany.

Bauder, who moved to New York in 2004, credits his time in Chicago during the late-’90s with helping to form this catholic approach.

“It seemed like we could play with anybody around the whole city: We could play with rock musicians, we could play jazz or free-jazz, we could sit in at the New Apartment Lounge, we could do all of these things at once and not feel like someone would ignore you for a gig because you’re this kind of a player, which happens a lot in New York.”

Between his New York collaborators and the close ties he maintains with many of the musicians he first worked with in Chicago, like bassist Jason Ajemian and Bay Area reedist Aram Shelton, he’s been able to carry on this aesthetic.

“I want a balance, and I wouldn’t be doing all of these different things for this long if I wanted one of them to take over,” he said. “I feel like I can’t take a narrow path like that. I see other people do it and get a lot of success from it, but it’s not possible for me.”

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