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On previous recordings, New York City-based drummer Matt Slocum featured compositions tailored toward themes and personnel. Yet, his latest release, Sanctuary, offers glimpses of the people and places that shaped the Minnesota-born drummer as he wrote without regard for such aesthetics. The resulting pieces were then recorded after one rehearsal with his trio mates, capturing the improvised sound of surprise that only jazz can offer.
It helps that Slocum’s pianist is Gerald Clayton, a musical partner for two decades who’s appeared on all of the drummer's recordings. And that the acoustic bassist is first-time collaborator Larry Grenadier, an ace who plays without pre-conceived notions, supplying the trio with harmonic nuance. Grenadier’s intro leads off the first track and lone cover, “Romulus,” an instrumental reading of a tune by singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. With the aid of Slocum’s sparse punctuation and Clayton’s ominous voicings, the trio conveys the moodiness of the original vocal version without words. “Consolation Prize” ups the meter and lightens the mood, to the point where the listener can visualize the musicians reacting to each other via Clayton’s playful chords, Slocum’s stops and starts and Grenadier’s glue-like undercurrent.
Clayton contributes a gorgeous solo to “Star Prairie,” Slocum’s ballad ode to the area where he grew up in western Wisconsin. It’s one of the comfortable places that Sanctuary is named for, and evoked by the relaxed nature of the sparse title track. Slocum based the evocative closer “Anselmo” on a character from Ernest Hemingway's Spanish Civil War novel For Whom the Bell Tolls, and utilizes his tom-toms to create melodic themes and suitable drama. It’s conclusive proof that this estimable player and composer, who started out as a pianist, can make a drummer-led trio not sound like a drummer-led trio. —Bill Meredith
Featured photo by Chris Dukker.