Matt Otto, Kansas City Trio Review


Matt Otto, Kansas City Trio Review

Harmonic Mastery Unbound: An Exploration of Matt Otto’s Kansas City Trio

by Jeff Becker

Matt-Otto-CDMatt Otto, with his command over the saxophone, paints an engaging musical landscape in his album of jazz standards titled Kansas City Trio. Accompanied by various trios, Otto presents his absorbing performances that outline the changes while still creating interesting melodies, harmonic and melodic colors, and rhythmic variety.

Otto, through his perpetual fascination with and thorough absorption of jazz harmony, has long been at a place where he neither needs nor often wants a harmonic accompaniment for his own projects. It’s fitting, then, that he utilized the traditional saxophone trio format—drums and bass only—for this presentation of standards on Kansas City Trio, a choice that echoes the decisions of many influential saxophonists for their own projects.

The journey through Otto’s world is guided by the skillful and complementary talents of the instrumentalists who accompany him. On the bass, we have Ben Leifer, Jeff Harshbarger, and Bob Bowman. Each brings their unique style and flair to the arrangements, demonstrating their ability to fill harmonic spaces with a perfect balance of rhythm and melody.

On the drums, the rhythmic tapestry is woven by Marty Morrison, John Kizilarmut, and Brian Steever. Each drummer not only provides a solid rhythmic foundation but also contributes to the melodic conversation, adding layers of richness to the sonic palette.

The trios are rounded off by Otto’s expressive saxophone performances. His musicianship illuminates the chordless arrangements as he navigates the harmonic landscape with grace, creativity, and a unique storytelling voice. He paints a captivating auditory picture, taking listeners on a journey that is as engaging as it is innovative.

Kansas City Trio opens with “Cycle,” a medium-tempo selection that introduces us to the chordless world of the project. The narrative conveyed by Otto, Liefer, and Morrison is one that appreciates and utilizes both space and activity, setting a solid precedent for the album.

Next, we move on to “Blue In Green,” a well-known standard that is skillfully reintroduced by the trio. Otto builds interest with rhythmic ideas and motifs, while Morrison’s spot-on drumming support solidifies the track.

“When Will The Blues Leave” is where we first taste Otto’s swing feel. His warm tone and relaxed time sense create an enjoyable mix of bebop, hard-bop, and modern jazz that’s hard to resist.

“Along Came Betty” is purposefully ambiguous. Otto’s arrangement decisions highlight his thorough absorption of jazz harmony, reaffirming his skill in creating a vivid auditory experience without the need for harmonic chordal accompaniments.

“Mohawk” and “Segment,” the Charlie Parker tributes, are where Otto plays with our expectations. With a relaxed groove and a modern appeal, Otto slips between spelling out the chords and playing outside the harmony, creating an almost free-jazz spirit.

“Thanks” is an impactful ballad. The trio brilliantly explores harmonic layering, creating a dynamic performance and proving their prowess in collaborative storytelling.

“Darn That Dream” reflects Otto’s penchant for relaxed tempos. His comfortable playing, quotes of other jazz standards, and superimposing alternate chord progressions make this one a standout.

“AJ” is an Otto original, a contrafact—an alternate melody—to the harmony of “Yardbird Suite,” showcasing his creativity in crafting new melodies over familiar forms.

“The More I See You” and “Easy Living” provide a fascinating change in the album’s mood. With a slow straight-eight groove and a mellow performance, they further deepen the overall auditory experience.

The album concludes with “You Stepped Out Of A Dream,” a straight-ahead swing performance of the classic standard. A solid performance that keeps the harmony and melody close to the heart and provides a satisfying conclusion to a richly diverse album.

Each track on Kansas City Trio unfolds like a story, with every note and rhythm contributing to the narrative. The trios’ skillful manipulation of silence and activity creates an environment where the listener can appreciate the individual beauty of each piece while simultaneously perceiving the project’s broader vision.

With Kansas City Trio, Matt Otto continues to build his discography and significantly contributes to the conversation about what jazz standards can sound like in the modern era. He navigates a path deeply rooted in tradition yet unabashedly forward-looking, bridging the gap between the past and the present in an incredibly musical and engaging way.

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