Review by Brad Walseth
One of the best and most enjoyable releases of 2008 comes from young local bassist, Matt Ulery and his "Loom" ensemble. Music Box Ballerina is the debut release from this striking composer, and features his inventive compositions performed by an all-star cast of young talent, including: violinist Zach Brock, tenor saxophonist Tim Haldeman, trumpeter Thad Franklin and drummer Jon Deitemyer. Pianist Rob Clearfield also doubles on the accordion, which lends an Old World feel to the sound, and vocalist Grazyna Auguscik, with whom Ulery has toured and recorded, appears on the stellar, chill-inducing "Slow and Awake."
This is music which really must be listened to be described, as it encompasses a number of genre: classical chamber music, modern jazz, folk songs (Euro and American) and merges them into a complex and distinctive sound of their own. Ulery's steady bass anchors the sound and his bowing is especially satisfying and woody. Deitemyer - a well-known force with several groups around Chicago - is given latitude and responds with some of the most creative and excitingly expressive drumming I've heard from the young man. He is clearly in his element here and it shows, as he provides a powerful and important component from his kit. The strong front line players, Haldeman and Franklin, shimmer in the hazy atmosphere, and work together seamlessly in weaving the colorful melodic strands, while producing effective counterpoint to their rhythm peers. Of course, the talented Brock enlivens the proceedings whenever he makes an appearance, and secret weapon, Clearfield provides an essential fabric in this sonic tapestry.
The catchy "Scott Free" opens the recording with interesting rhythms and memorable melodic structure, while the more than 10-minute "Kentucky Animal Orchestra" lives up to its unusual title with a frolicking menagerie of sounds. "Good Morning" sometimes resembles deconstructed circus music morphing into modern jazz, foreshadowing the album-ending "House Logic," where Ulery picks up the tuba to create an image of the day Fellini's circus came to Hades. "Liguria," (with sublimely august piano by Clearfield) the ever-shifting "Constant" and Mediterranean-sounding "Pink Sea and Wondering Without" could be a soundtrack for dreams, with moments of supremely haunting beauty amidst glorious textures. This is composition and ensemble playing at a truly mature and satisfying level and it is hard to believe Ulery and the players are so young. A great sign for the future of Chicago jazz, I highly recommend listeners take the time to unravel Loom's "Music Box Ballerina" through repeated listening.