Matheny Makes a Little Night Music
July 21, 2005
By Beth Wood

Things work better at night for Dmitri Matheny. Several attempts at an early morning phone interview turned into a series of crossed wires and miscommunications. But, as the sun was setting later the same day, he responded to questions — via email — with answers as eloquent as some of this accomplished flugelhornist and composer’s graceful music.

Matheny’s latest release, Nocturne, travels from dawn to dusk, taking the listener on a warm and lovely trip through darkness. He’ll perform songs from it and his other albums, as well as new material, when he leads his band in concert next Thursday, July 21 at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library.

“Jazz is night music and I’m a night person,” the San Francisco-based musician said. “I’m at my most creative and energetic late in the evening when most people are asleep. I’m fascinated with the nighttime.... Away from daytime cares, fixed identities and responsibilities, we are free to encounter the emotionally rich nighttime world of mystery, nostalgia, spirituality, eroticism and romance.”

The songs on Nocturne, which feature tasteful string orchestrations, flow naturally to evoke the passage of one seamless night. Matheny explained that a unique aspect of the album is that each selection can function on its own, as individual movements of an integrated suite. To suggest the passage of time, he said, the transition between each movement is fluid, and to convey a sense of memory, some musical themes are repeated.

Matheny’s full and sweet-sounding flugelhorn is well-suited to nighttime imagery, even though another instrument might come more immediately to mind.

“The saxophone has always been considered the signature instrument of jazz,” he commented. “To accompany a ‘nighttime in the city’ scene, a film composer will often write something jazz-infused for saxophone. Now, I do love the sax, and I almost always feature saxophonists in my recordings and performances. But ever since I first heard my mentor, Art Farmer, play the flugelhorn, I have also been enamored with the warm, rich tonal possibilities of this instrument.”

Matheny was born in Tennessee and raised in Georgia and Arizona. His first horn was the trumpet, which he took up at the age of 9. An honors graduate of the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and the Berklee College of Music in Boston, he made a living as a sideman with such artists as R&B greats the Temptations and Martha Reeves. He switched to playing the flugelhorn full-time at Farmer’s prompting.

While the flugelhorn is not a widely known instrument, Matheny enjoys a busy career playing, teaching, composing and performing worldwide in several musical configurations.

As a composer, he has published works for chamber groups, choral ensembles and also film. He recently provided music for the 2004 movie Shade starring Melanie Griffith, Sylvester Stallone, Jamie Foxx and Thandie Newton.

“This film connection is important,” Matheny emphasized. “I wanted Nocturne to sound cinematic, bathed in the glow of film noir streetlights. To achieve an atmospheric film score sound, I used lots of string instruments in the orchestration, including violin, viola, cello, harp, guitar and acoustic bass.”

The string section he sometimes brings on this tour would be hard to squeeze into the cozy music room at the Athenaeum, but Matheny will be joined by the other musicians who recorded Nocturne with him.

“I have performed at the Athenaeum before and I really love the intimacy and sophistication of this venue and its audience,” said Matheny, who most recently appeared at the music library with pianist Darrell Grant in July of 2011. “For many stops on our tour, we’re performing with the full orchestra, but at the Athenaeum, we want a more transparent, intimate sound.”

Saxophonist Charles McNeal, guitarist Brad Buethe, bassist Ruth Davies and percussionist Deszon X. Claiborne are the band members who will play in La Jolla with Matheny.

When asked if he ever encounters confusion over the similarity between his last name and that of the well-known guitarist Pat Metheny, Matheny seemed nonplussed.

“Truthfully, I really don’t mind when people reference Pat Metheny with me, because he is such a terrific musician,” he said. “And Pat’s brother Mike, an excellent jazz flugelhornist, wrote a nice review of my CD Starlight Cafe for one of the trades. All the Mathenys are good people - regardless of spelling!”

The Dmitri Matheny Group performs Thursday, July 21, 7:30 p.m., at the Athenaeum, 1008 Wall St. Tickets are $18 to $23. Seating is limited; for reservations, call (858) 454-5872.