Reviewed by Eugene Ball, May 1st, 2015
Compositions that employ straight (not swung) quavers, complex meters and complex harmonic sequences have been heard in jazz for decades and are very much in vogue today. This is not surprising given that many young jazz musicians are heavily influenced by ‘popular’ music (straight quavers), and are conservatoire trained and as such, often drawn to the intellectual challenge of complex metres and complex harmonic structures.
When complexity itself becomes the driving force in music, however, the results can be cold, dry and hyper-intellectual. Fortunately, pianist and composer Matthew Sheens is possessed of the ability to draw together complex elements to create music that is intelligent, sophisticated, exciting and warm. Untranslatable, Sheens’ second release under his own name, recorded in New York City is testimony to this ability. While intellect and technical prowess pervade Untranslatable, it is lyricism that prevails.
Sheens’ compositions are meticulously crafted and thoughtfully arranged, making Untranslatable varied but homogenous, and intricately detailed. The production of the album is just as considered. There is wonderful clarity and transparency across the frequency range, and subtle and thoughtful use of delays, panning and overdubs throughout.
Sheens has assembled a magnificent team of collaborators (below) on this album, all of whom are highly respected and in great demand in the NYC scene. They navigate Sheens’ music seemingly without effort and inject it with immense momentum and character.
Sheens’ recent move from Australia to NYC follows a path increasingly worn by many young Australian musicians. For some, the pilgrimage dilutes their identity, but for others, like Sheens, it distils it.
For their contributions to the realisation of Untranslatable, the Australia Council for the Arts, APRA/AMCOS and ABC Music must be lauded: May they continue supporting the creation of new, intelligent, interesting, well-crafted music.
Matthew Sheens, piano and Rhodes
Sara Serpa, vocals
Michael Mayo, vocals
Mike Moreno, guitar
Linda Oh, bass
Kenneth Salters, drums
Rodregio Boccato, percussion
Stefani Collins, violin 1
Francesca Dardani, violin 2
Yumi Oshima, viola
Hiro Matsuo, cello
Yanni Burton, double bass