Tag Archives: Danton Boller

OUT OF THE CRADLE, ENDLESSLY ROCKING: MATT MUNISTERI at CORNELIA STREET CAFE (MATT RAY, DANTON BOLLER, Oct. 3, 2013)

More evidence of what everyone should know: that guitarist / singer / composer / arranger Matt Munisteri is blazingly yet subtly inventive in many kinds of music, transforming everything he touches into something sharp and new yet always full of the deepest human spirit.
Here he is with bassist Danton Boller and pianist Matt Ray at the Cornelia Street Cafe in New York City on October 3, 2013.
Much of the music performed that night was composed by Willard Robison — someone who, like Matt, turns a satiric eye on our rush to delude ourselves while offering us comfort in his melodies and hope that happiness and enlightenment are possible.
But the show wasn’t an archivist’s self-indulgence immersion in “the old stuff,” reproduced exactly from aged discs and crumbling pages.
Matt is far too imaginative for that, so each of the Robison songs was like a jewel in a new setting: I knew the melodies, but thought, “Wow!  I have really never heard that song before.”
The same was true for Nick Lucas’ PICKIN’ THE GUITAR, reminding us how brilliantly Matt plays that much-abused instrument.  The Sammy Cahn-Saul Chaplin GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF (which we usually associate with Willie “the Lion” Smith and O’Neil Spencer) receives a sharp modernist edge thanks to the new lyrics from Rachelle Garniez and Matt.
Matt was beautifully and wittily accompanied by pianist Matt and bassist Danton.  They swung and provided just-right commentaries and eloquent solos: this wasn’t three musicians together for the night behind their music stands, but a true band, a conversation among equals, rocking us towards deeper insights.
(WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME) IN THE MORNING:
COUNTRY BOY BLUES:
GET ACQUAINTED WITH YOURSELF:
PICKIN’ THE GUITAR:
STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS:
I HEARD A MOCKING BIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA:
REVOLVING JONES:
DEEP ELM:
‘T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO:
Walt Whitman would have approved: Matt’s spirit is expansive, fluid, encompassing us all.
May your happiness increase!
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MAKE MINE MUNISTERI (Cornelia Street Cafe, October 3, 2013)

Very few artists are awarded the recognition they deserve.  It isn’t a matter of dying penniless and tubercular in a garret, or freezing to death on the street.  No, it’s usually more subtle: publicity, gigs, opportunities to create the art somewhere where people are listening.

I think one of the most worthy creators of music I know is guitarist / singer / arranger / composer / visionary Matt Munisteri.  I have been following him with admiration and sometimes awe for the last seven years, and he always offers beautiful surprises.  Sometimes it is a piece of obscure material (his range is both broad and deep); sometimes it’s familiar music brought back from the grave of familiarity.  His guitar (and banjo) playing makes wise musicians nod their heads in delight; his singing is a wry but heartfelt joy.  He reminds us just how much music there still is — in a time and place where we are used to hearing simply a dull thrumming coming from the next fellow’s earbuds.

I write all this to urge people in New York and environs to come to a rare and special gig — Matt’s first New York City show of 2013.  It’s happening thus Thursday, October 3, at the Cornelia Street Cafe, 29 Cornelia Street, Manhattan, New York, from 8:30 to 10:30.

Matt will be appearing there with Danton Boller and Matt Ray — good fellows, loyal, faithful, and true.  And I know that this trio will make memorable music.  You can make reservations (the CSC is not a huge place, so expect it will sell out) only by phone: 212-989-9319.  Here you can find out more information.

May your happiness increase!

DON’T MISS THIS: MATT MUNISTERI PLAYS WILLARD ROBISON at JOE’S PUB (July 10, 2012)

I know that I am not the only person who has been waiting for the first CD to document Matt Munisteri’s heartfelt study of composer Willard Robison’s music.  The disc is finally here — STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS: THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON, VOLUME ONE.  To listen to tracks from this disc, please click here.  But we now have an occasion where all the pieces come into delightful alignment: a CD release show at Joe’s Pub in New York City on July 10, 2012, beginning at 7:30 PM.  Matt will be joined by Matt Ray, piano; Jon-Erik Kellso, trumpet; Danton Boller, bass; Mark McLean, drums.

I’ll have more to say about the CD itself — one of the most rewarding efforts I have on my shelves — but here’s Matt on Robison:

During the mid 1920′s Willard Robison was working as a pianist and arranger with many of the stars of the new jazz vanguard when he went into the studio and recorded a string of startling recordings which almost certainly made him the prototype for the American 20th century’s most abundant and everlasting artistic archetype: The singer/songwriter.  Before the deluge – before there was Hoagy, or Johnny Mercer, or Randy Newman, or Mose Allison, or Brian Wilson, or Van Dyke Parks – Willard Robison wrote, orchestrated, conducted, and sang his own utterly unclassifiable music and lyrics in a series of pioneering and timeless recordings between 1924 and 1930.  His songs told of odd rural loners, wild open landscapes, revival camp meetings, preachers, and the devil (always the devil) and employed a complex and surprising harmonic and melodic language which, while referencing the new jazz – along with classical, ragtime, blues, and even old time country music – emerged at once as a fully realized and completely original American voice.

Yet, in the years since 1930, and in the 42 years since Robison’s death, not one of these ground-breaking recordings has ever been re-issued after its initial release as a 78 record.  Robison is virtually alone among seminal and much-recorded American musical innovators: the LP era passed him by; the CD era passed him by; the digital download era has thus-far passed him by. As Robison slipped deeper into alcoholism and an increasingly itinerant life the big companies who owned his music subsequently shelved these strange “unmarketable” works to the vaults, where they remain to this day.  But this could soon change, and Matt Munisteri’s new CD “Still Runnin’ ‘Round in The Wilderness” may prove a catalyst for a long overdue interest in this timeless body of work.

Lauded for his fiery guitar chops, literate humor, and “pre-war heart” (The New Yorker), the likewise unclassifiable ace guitarist, singer, and songwriter, Matt Munisteri has spent over a decade hunting down, transcribing, and performing these lost masterworks, refracting them through his own individual prism of 20th century American music.  In the process he has not only finally brought these tunes to light, but has imbued them with an organic and riveting beauty in which jazz improvisation, folk traditions, and popular song co-mingle.

Matt Munisteri has worked with many notables across the jazz and roots-music spectrum, including Mark O’Connor, Steven Bernstein, Loudon Wainwright, Jenny Scheinman, “Little” Jimmy Scott, Catherine Russell, and Geoff Muldaur. His 2003 release “Love Story” won the number two slot in Amazon’s Best Jazz CDs of The Year.  Recognizing a rare kindred spirit, Munisteri became obsessed with Robison’s music around 2000, and the hunt for old 78s, worn tapes, acetates, and sheet music over the past decade has produced as many remarkable stories as the songs themselves tell.  With a crew of top NYC musicians he has re-imagined Robison’s songs, culled from their original recordings, as a body of work rightfully freed from the trappings of era or idiom.

The music was recorded live over two days, with all the musicians in a 15X18 foot room, with no isolation by John Kilgore – this is truly “Live” live, with nowhere to hide, and the resultant interplay among these master improvisers is the listener’s gain.  The musicians include: Matt Munisteri – guitar, vocals, banjo; Ben Perowsky – drums; Danton Boller – bass; Matt Ray – piano; Scott Robinson – C melody sax, clarinet; Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpet; Will Holshouser – accordion; Rachelle Garniez – guest vocals.

What Matt has done with and for Robison’s music is startlingly rewarding.  It would have been one thing for him to consider his role as musical archivist only: find the obscure sheet music and 78s, and present them, either as cleaned-up copies of the original discs OR as reverent recreations in 2012 by musicians interpreting Robison as if he were Dvorak.

That in itself would have been a splendid project, because listeners like myself would have been able to hear Robison songs they didn’t know (in addition to the “famous” ones: A COTTAGE FOR SALE; T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, T’AIN’T SO; LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN).  But Matt knows that archival reverence has its limitations, so both the CD and his live performances have successfully gotten at the heart of Robison’s music creatively.  Another artist’s deference to “the material” might have made it seem distant — museum pieces behind glass.  Munisteri’s Robison, imbued with the force of two strong personalities, comes into the room and demands our attention.  Now.

I know that “re-imagining” makes some listeners nervous: will the original music that they know be stretched out of shape by artists eager to impose their own personalities on it?  Will SUNSET CAFE STOMP reappear to a samba beat with sampling?

Matt’s imagination is deep but nothing of the sort has happened here.  What he has done is to present Robison’s music through his own lens — wry, soulful, amused, sad — presenting it by singing and playing, alone and with congenial musicians.  The result is a new window into a series of intriguing worlds, where ethical truths are offered with sly wit, where deep feelings have sharp edges.  The CD is masterful and repeated playings have only shown me its expanding vistas.  And I’ve learned so much about Robison from Matt’s incisive writing in the notes.

I propose that anyone who can go to the show and buy the CD: both will be rewarding experiences.  And if we send out the right sympathetic vibrations, perhaps Volume Two will follow soon.

May your happiness increase.

“WE ALL NEED GOOD MUSIC / TO STRAIGHTEN UP THE SOUL”: MATT MUNISTERI – WILLARD ROBISON (Barbes, Dec. 15, 2011)

Those lines come from Willard Robison’s THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC, and the sum up the experience I — and a receptive audience — had last night at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York.  Matt Munisteri sang and played both electric and acoustic guitars, aided by Danton Boller on string bass and Ben Perowsky on drums — with a late cameo appearance (two songs) by guitarist Julian Lage.

It was a lovely evening, and Matt both performed and reimagined a dozen of Robison’s songs perfectly — his singing a mix of tenderness and amusement, his playing a marvelous offering of textures: twangy notes and assertive dissonances, a rhythmic rocking whether the trio was in 2/4 or 4/4 — ranging from thunderous opening chords to lullabies.  Danton Boller was a swinging foundation, every note a pleasure in itself, whether he was creating chiming harmonies or walking the pulse.  And Perowsky was a perfect sound-receptor in the manner of Sonny Greer: what he heard, he echoed, he anticipated, he commented on — never losing the thread of the music.

I can’t wait for the Munisteri CD of Robisonia!

Last night, Matt began with one of Robison’s “syncopated sermons,” STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS, which opened with minor-key vamping over Ben’s brushwork, then segued into a sweet but emphatic lesson about finding one’s life purpose by being aware of other people (always a pertinent message).

I’LL HAVE THE BLUES UNTIL I GET TO CALIFORNIA was a delicious mixture of optimism about the Golden State and a lover’s hope to be reunited.

Robison loved to quietly suggest to his listeners that they could find joy in being kinder human beings, but he had a satiric streak — one of his sly, naughty folktales is REVOLVING JONES (where one must listen very carefully to the verse to understand the chorus): Jones, before he dies, instructs his wife not to take a lover after he’s gone, or else he’ll turn over in his grave . . . and you can see where the song is headed.  With a wink, Matt delivered the tale of infidelities to his Brooklyn hearers.

Another piece of sweet Nature-worship was I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA . . . which (not for the first time) led me to wonder just how much of the folk-poetry Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer are justly celebrated for comes straight from Robison.  MOONLIGHT, MISSISSIPPI had a couplet that Mercer would have been proud to write — describing the languorous cadences of speech in this “whistle-stop town,” the lyrics point out, “Like corn on the cob, it’s mighty sweet on the ear.”

Appeals for building funds never charmed me, but WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING (anticipating Habitat for Humanity) was a rocking exhortation: we were ready to pick up hammer and nails and begin constructing something!

TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the tale of a syncopating man of the cloth who swings the organ while telling his congregation what they need to know, “You’ll never get ahead if you try to keep your brother down,” was uplifting — and also reminiscent of music I’d never heard: Fats Waller said that his dream was to go out with a big band behind him and preach sermons.  He would have grinned so happily at the music I heard last night.

Many evenings of improvised music hit a peak and then trail off: this one climbed and soared.  Matt picked up his acoustic guitar for a solo trilogy (and I noted that Danton and Ben stayed there and listened admiringly) of three sweet songs I associate with Mildred Bailey: an instrumental chorus of OLD FOLKS, a deeply tender GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, and (what I think of as the evening’s masterpiece) a reading of LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN that was loving without being mawkish, amused without being in the least emotionally distant.

COUNTRY BOY BLUES was one of Robison’s satires — where the singer has been taken advantage of by an urban vamp, having let “a shoemaker’s daughter make a heel of me.”

Matt and Julian Lage had a good time with the closing songs — echoes of a Mississippi revival meeting in THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC and a reinvented T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO which began in funk territory before moving into the light.

It was a wonderful evening, with so much to admire in Robison: his earnestness and goodness of heart mixed with a Frishbergian sharpness and awareness of life’s little hypocrisies.  And then there was Mr. Munisteri, humming along with his solos, rocking the blues, creating sweet music throughout.  And he is a peerless singer, sincere or sly or both at the same time.

As I said, I can’t wait for the CD.  You might want to investigate Matt’s recorded output while you’re waiting, though . . . !

MATT MUNISTERI DIGS DEEP: “THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON” (Barbes, Dec. 15, 2011) IS COMING

May I recommend something to the tristate JAZZ LIVES audience?  It’s an evening of music coming this Thursday, Dec. 15, 2011, beginning at 8 PM.  Guitarist / singer / songwirter / thinker Matt Munisteri will be presenting THE LOST MUSIC OF WILLARD ROBISON along with friends Matt Ray on piano and Danton Boller on bass.  Barbes is an intriguing spot in Brooklyn, New York: their site is Barbes — and they are located at 376 Ninth Street (corner of Sixth Avenue) in Park Slope; their phone is 347.422.0248.  Barbes is — for the geographically anxious — reachable by the F train, which should calm us all. 

Matt Munisteri is well-known as a fine guitarist to JAZZ LIVES — creating looping down-home solos and playing rocking rhythms — and as co-founder of The EarRegulars.  But Matt rarely sings at The Ear Inn, so the evening at Barbes will allow us to hear him: a mixture of earnest and sly, heartfelt and ironic.  Matt Ray creates note clusters that seem like small stars; Danton Boller is a great swing melodist.  This trio would be worth the trip to Park Slope on their own collective / individual merits and voices, but since the subject (and the musical text) is Willard Robison, it will be an extra-special evening. 

If people know of Robison at all, it is for his jazz connections — with Bix, Jack Teagarden, Eddie Lang, and other luminaries in the Twenties.  Later on, his songs were sung in the most touching way by Mildred Bailey.  A few became unforgettable pieces of the musical landscape: OLD FOLKS,  A COTTAGE FOR SALE, and DON’T SMOKE IN BED.  Robison was so popular that he made many recordings as a vocalist, pianist, bandleader, and composer; he had his own radio show. 

But I fear that he has been misunderstood as a folksy poet of rural pieties — go to church, keep your hand on the plow, tell the truth.  He did have strong moral beliefs and he did weave them into his songs, but I never find a bar of Robison’s music didactic or preachy. 

And there is a sharp wit under the surface; his melodic lines often go in unexpected directions, and his “folksiness” is very expertly crafted.  And he is very deep: listen to ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM for one example.

Although Robison died in 1968, he has found someone who not only loves but understands him in Matt Munisteri — a romantic with a sharp eye for the absurdities of the world, a city boy who knows what it is to burn wood in a stove for heat.  And even better: this appearance at Barbes is a preview, a coming-to-a-theatre-near-you for Matt’s CD devoted to Robison that will be released next year. 

Skip the office party; don’t go to the department store.  I’ll see you at Barbes!

A JOURNEY THROUGH “HINDUSTAN”: JON-ERIK KELLSO, DAN BLOCK, BOB HAVENS, JAMES DAPOGNY, FRANK TATE, PETE SIERS (JAZZ AT CHAUTAUQUA 2011)

In the name of geographers everywhere, here’s an 1835 map showing Hindustan:

And here’s the local paper — if you’d like something to read while travelling:

And here’s the sheet music cover for the song:

But enough of that.  What we’re concerned with today is an amazing extended hot performance of this song at Jazz at Chautauqua (Sept. 16, 2011) by a group led by trumpeter Jon-Erik Kellso, with Bob Havens (trombone); Dan Block (clarinet); James Dapogny (piano); Frank Tate (string bass); Pete Siers (drums).

Because the song has very simple harmonies — “chord changes” — and perhaps for the sake of variety, Jon-Erik had made HINDUSTAN into a key-changing exercise in swing on the superb CD, BLUE ROOF BLUES, that he created in 2006 with Matt Munisteri, Evan Christopher, and Danton Boller.  There’s something about key changes that’s inherently dramatic: the audience might not know that the band was in C for the first chorus and Eb for the second, but we feel it — even when (as is the case here) the band and the soloists keep shifting from one key to another . . . it seems exciting rather than mechanical.

This band is special to me because of its wonderfully paradoxical nature: they make it look easy, but you know their playing is the result of decades of study; it looks like great fun, but it’s very hard work (let the critics pick up a trumpet and try it sometime); they get hot but stay cool.  My heroes!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go check on my desert caravan.  The last time I unwittingly left it in a NO PARKING zone on the Upper West Side, I got a $65 ticket.

SYNCOPATED SERMONS: MATT MUNISTERI HONORS WILLARD ROBISON (Feb. 27, 2011)

I’ve been playing the music of Willard Robison often these past few weeks: the songs as performed by Mildred Bailey, Jack Teagarden, Ben Webster, and Ruby Braff.  He was an extraordinary American composer, creating melodies that sound so simple but aren’t (they lodge in your memory on one hearing) and lyric poems that celebrate goodness, steadfast vision, love of the country — without ever being preachy.  If Robison’s name isn’t familiar, OLD FOLKS is, as is A COTTAGE FOR SALE, DON’T SMOKE IN BED, ‘ROUND MY OLD DESERTED FARM, and GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER.   

Robison’s greatest exponent today is the most admirable singer, guitarist, and scholar Matt Munisteri.  And if you know Matt only as a rocking player — co-founder of The EarRegulars — you have wonderful surprises in store, for he is also a fine composer himself who understands the depth of other people’s music.

Here he is performing a Robison song that deserves to be better known — TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN:

Deep feeling but never heavy-handed or didactic. 

Matt has put together a Robison program and will be performing it this month: it’s something special!  Here are the details:

I know Matt as someone who doesn’t approach music casually or half-heartedly, and the combination of Munisteri and Robison is going to be special — and there will be guest appearances by Scott Robinson and others. 

Not to be missed!

WHAT WOULD TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN DO?  HE’D CLICK HERE FOR THE MUSICIANS!

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