By Sandra Burlingame
Dmitri Matheny brought his silver-toned flugelhorn to Jazz Alley from the Bay Area along with pianist Mark Little and tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis. Fleshing out his quintet like group veterans were bassist Tom Wakeling from Portland and drummer Reade Whitwell from Seattle. Matheny was obviously pleased with their smooth integration into the band and said so.
The contrasting range of the two horns mellifluously complimented each other, at times blending, at others locking in an edgy give and take. Matheny's smooth agility and breath control were impressive. Ellis has the big, warm sound associated with Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and he takes full advantage of his instrument's lower range. Their technical prowess seemed effortless, and they never strained to make a point.
Many of the compositions, ranging from ballads to bop, were originals from Matheny's new CD, Red Reflections, whose title cut is sultry and wistful. He's a "musician's" composer in the sense of allowing plenty of room for improvisation within the structure of his pieces, which easily lend themselves to varied musical environments.
Dmitri's relaxed stage presence and pride in his fellow musicians created a feeling of camaraderie in the room. He was generous in sharing solo space and turned over the stage to Monarch label-mate Little for a trio performance that featured the pianist's clean, facile runs and intense rhythmic sense. He also invited trumpeter Brian McWhorter from Eugene, Oregon, and then Seattle-based vocalist Jay Clayton from the audience to join the group. Matheny's April tour was concentrated in California, but if he turns up in your area, get out to hear these fine musicians.