Friday, May 28, 2010
"Ghost" - the Music of Matt Stevens
Think back to the days of rock instrumentals: the late 50s to the mid 60s—the sounds of Link Wray, Dick Dale, the Ventures, Booker T & the MGs, the Surfaris. Now imagine that music brought forward some 50 years thru the filter of metal & punk & electronica (not to mention bebop & baroque). If a sound begins in your ear, you may begin to have an inkling of the music of Matt Stevens.
A music of sonic landscapes—like landscapes, comprised of layers & textures—like landscapes, a place where you can lose yourself or a place where you can discover the unexpected—landscapes that seem both unique & strangely familiar—like the music you hear in a dream, & wake trying to recall— music as the soundtrack for a movie that hasn’t been filmed, & yet you know the story.
The story of how I’ve come to write about Matt Stevens’ music is in itself unexpected; Mr Stevens, who lives in the UK, contacted me not so very long ago with a link to the music on his soon-to-be-released cd Ghost (release date is June 1st) & asked if I’d consider reviewing it here on Robert Frost’s Banjo. After giving the music a listen, I was delighted to oblige.
The music itself—beyond my somewhat lyrical descriptions in the first couple of paragraphs—is genre defying: one hears rock (in several of its incarnations) & jazz & funk & classical & Latin. Yet Stevens, whose guitar artistry is matched by his compositional skills, welds these disparate elements into a coherent whole. He lists diverse influences: John McLaughlin of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Robert Fripp (one commentator described his music as sounding like a jam session involving Fripp & Tom Verlaine—a very apt characterization!), & in Stevens’ own words “"Loads of stuff from metal to soundtracks to jazz and 60's pysche stuff. Carcass to Todd Rundgren to John Coltrane.”
How does Stevens make this music? He plays mostly acoustic guitar, but makes liberal (& astute) use of looping technology & effects. In this way, he creates what has been called a “wall of sound”—& in the typical musical use of that term it’s appropriate. However, a “wall” is a flat surface that defines space in squares & rectangles; to my ear, Stevens’ music opens out, & thus I’d find “layered” a more apt description. Using this technology & his acoustic guitar, Stevens is credited with being able to reproduce the multi-layered sound of his studio work onstage. You can check out his website for future gigs here. According to the site, he’s scheduled to play at the Strongroom in London at 8:00 p.m. on July 14th 2010.
Ghost will be released on cd in an edition of 100; you can pre-order the cd here on Stevens site. The tracks are also available as electronic downloads on a “pay what you want” basis. Mr Stevens has a formidable web presence: in addition to his website, he has a YouTube channel, blog & Facebook page; you may also purchase his music at the latter site.
To give you some idea of Stevens’ music, I’ve embedded his video for his song “Big Sky” from Ghost. I would note, however, that while the album is most certainly “of a piece,” no one track is going to tell the whole story—there’s also the Latin jazz of “Into the Sea,” the “deformed” classical riffs of “Glide,” & the very soundtrack-like “Lake Man” & “Ghost.” This is an album that rewards listening to as a whole.
If you’re interested in an original, intriguing album of guitar work by a musician whose playing & composition (which he figures to be 50% arranged & 50% improvisation) display a high degree of musicality, then Ghost will be for you. Please check it out!
Promo photos by K Feazey