Buzzin' at The Hive
By Paul Weideman
Friday, August 13, 1999

Most people at some point dream of finding buried treasure. Dmitri Matheny discovered his trove at Berklee College of Music in Boston.

By that point in the mid-1980s, the Tucson teen had been playing trumpet for 10 years. First inspired by his father's copy of the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, Matheny went on to study at the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan. There he played with Ramsey Lewis and was a featured soloist on National Public Radio.

After enrolling at Berklee, Matheny ran into Herb Pomeroy, a jazz trumpeter who had played with Charlie Parker.

"Herb worked with all the jazz greats at the Jazz Workshop in Boston," Matheny said by phone from his hotel room in Aspen. "When I met him, I was enamored with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers.  Herb said, 'Why don't you play some of his music?' It turns out he had tons of sheet music in piles and boxes."

The treasure included original manuscripts by jazz greats Charles Mingus, Horace Silver, Wayne Shorter and Blakey.

"I asked Herb if I could borrow some of the charts and he said, 'You may keep them, but only if you promise to perform them."

With that material in hand, Matheny formed the New Voice Jazz Sextet, a band that played on the leading edge of Boston's hard-bop revival for the next six years.

Matheny graduated magna cum laude from Berklee, then took private lessons from another of his jazz heroes, Art Farmer, who along with Clark Terry, had popularized the flugelhorn — the larger, mellower cousin of the trumpet — in the 1960s.

Studying with Farmer ultimately led Matheny — who was searching for a darker, more melancholy sound than he could produce with the trumpet — to focus on the flugelhorn.

That's what he will play Sunday, August 15 at The Hive, "Bumblebee" Bob Weil's personal jazz space in La Tierra. Matheny will join pianist Bill Bell, drummer John Trentacosta and bassist David Parlato in the Santa Fe Jazz Foundation concert.

The flugelhorn master will lead the combo on several tunes from his most recent CD, Starlight Café (Monarch Records, 1998). Listeners should be prepared for some lush music.

Matheny's playing on Starlight Café is soft as a breeze but also fresh with true jazz feeling. His music often is "easy" but has nothing to do with the brand of contemporary jazz that depends on cliche arrangements and the facile repetition of a theme.

"I like some pop music, but I'm not a fan of smooth jazz," Matheny said. "Up to this point, my background has been bebop and the tradition of jazz improvisation. I find myself moving toward playing fewer notes and making my solos spare and architectural. I'm trying to tell a story and be as lyrical as possible, approaching the flugelhorn as a singer would approach a song."

Starlight Café is full of mellow improvisation. In fact, Matheny did not intend to release the music, recorded live in San Francisco, on disc.

"We had signed a waiver to be recorded for radio broadcast but I'd forgotten about it," Matheny said. "I was so glad because while it was happening, I knew it was a great session."

Matheny has arranged his life to allow him to be on home ground in the Bay Area each November through March, touring the rest of the year. Early in July, he was on the faculty of Aspen's Thelonious Monk Institute, teaching in conjunction with the annual Aspen Music Festival. Herbie Hancock and Rosemary Clooney were also on the faculty at the time.

On August 7, he joined the Santa Fe band Yoboso on the stage of the Telluride Jazz Celebration.

In addition to the upcoming concert at The Hive, Matheny will perform at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, August 14, for the New Mexico Jazz Workshop's Albuquerque Museum Sculpture Garden concert series (505-255-9798); and at 8 p.m. Monday, August 16th at the Outpost Performance Space, 112 Morningside Drive SE in Albuquerque (505-268-8898).

Matheny said that each March he performs with a musician who has "a very different musical conception from me." He arranges such collaborations to "make sure I'm not getting into a musical rut," he said.

Next year, the visitor will be jazz pianist Amina Figarova from Amsterdam, Netherlands. Matheny plans to spend 10 days in Amsterdam as well, playing with Figarova and her flutist husband's band.

Meanwhile, Matheny is working on three recordings.

"One will be a Christmas album that will include 'The Grinch Song' from the animated film How the Grinch Stole Christmas," he said. "And I'm writing a Mass for the new millennium that will be premiered on New Year's Eve; it will be for 30-voice choir, brass sextet, two percussionists, an organist and a soprano.

"My next studio project for Monarch will be more commercial," Matheny said. "The concept is sort of romantic melodies with world percussion. My last two CDs were very melancholy and lyrical. I want this one to be more lively, and showcase my writing."