The brilliant young trumpeter, composer, and educator Matt White steps out with a lively and compelling debut titled The Super Villain Jazz Band, to be released October 1 by Artists Recording Collective. A quintet/sextet effort recorded in Nashville, the album is a post-bop update that goes beyond the usual formulas with its restless sense of invention in through-composed settings.
White’s collaborators on the date—tenor saxophonist Evan Cobb, alto saxophonist Don Aliquo, pianist Joe Davidian, bassist Jonathan Wires, and drummer Jim White (no relation)—are strong, seasoned players on the Nashville scene. “They all have great intonation and articulation, they’re great sight-readers, and they’re comfortable in the studio,” says the leader, who once taught at Nashville’s Belmont University and is now on faculty at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina (near Myrtle Beach).
The Super Villain Jazz Band attains a strong listener-friendliness through the application of two of White’s most closely held principles. He always strives, he says, to balance sophisticated elements with at least one simple one, whether a fetching melody, a catchy bass vamp, or a deep groove. And he isn’t afraid to play aggressively or risk a Woody Shaw-like brightness in his sound.
White pays tribute to Shaw with the rhythmically tight “Like Woody,” which was his very first composition, written while he was in college. It set an early high standard for White, taking top honors in the 2003 DownBeat Student Awards; it was featured on National Public Radio, and he performed the song in 2004 for Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program.
“The Yankee Poured Out the Bacon Grease,” which opens the CD program, features “differing solo sections and transitional interludes” and refers to a regrettable incident in which White mistakenly disposed of his Mississippi mother-in-law’s cooking grease. The CD title track grew out of “a joke about club announcements, featuring Darth Vader on trumpet, Dr. Octopus on drums, etc.,” says White. Britney Spears’s “Toxic” is drastically reconstructed here, and Tom Waits’s ballad “Alice” is given a lovely, relaxed reading.
Matt White, 32, is originally from Rockford, Illinois, but grew up in Tampa, Florida. Drawn to the strong, distinctive sounds of horn greats including Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, and Maynard Ferguson, Matt started playing trumpet at age nine. In high school, he played in concert and marching bands and jazz combos, and attended the University of North Florida in Jacksonville for his undergrad work. Its director of jazz studies, Bunky Green, the Chicago saxophone legend who is equally revered as an educator, was a major draw: “Bunky always impressed upon us to listen to other people, on other instruments, and incorporate what you learned from them into your playing.”
White went on to acquire his graduate degrees and teach at the University of Miami. His doctoral dissertation, “Visualization in Jazz Improvisation,” examined the experiences of three trumpeters who, like him, see colors, shapes, or other visual elements while improvising or composing.
During his three years in Nashville, White accompanied an extremely diverse array of artists including country star Brad Paisley, Venezuelan salsa great Oscar D’Leon, and pop diva Rihanna, as well as jazz luminaries including Wycliffe Gordon, Kevin Mahogany, Arturo Sandoval, and Bob Mintzer. He also taught and coordinated programs at the Nashville Jazz Workshop and played in classical and musical theater settings.
For the last two years, White has been involved as a preservationist recording the orally transferred spirituals of the Gullah people, descendants of early emancipated slaves, on St. Helena Island in South Carolina. He is working closely with an ethnomusicologist to document the experience of the elder soloists, a project now funded by Coastal Carolina University (where he is Professor of Trumpet and Director of Jazz Ensembles). White has posted ongoing reports about the St. Helena Spiritual Project on his blog, http://svjb.tumblr.com.
A pre-release performance has been scheduled for 9/16, in Conway, SC, with Jeff Coffin, Michael Feinberg, Joe Davidian, and Dana Hawkins. The CD release concert will take place at the Nashville Jazz Workshop 10/6 with the album band.
“This album is the culmination of all the diverse musical and life experiences that have matured into a unified statement, shared with some of my favorite people (in all their super-villainy),” says White. “Releasing it into the world marks a great beginning to see what I can learn and what comes next.”