Greta Matassa: I Wanna Be Loved (Resonance Records)
by Chris Robinson, Earshot Jazz
Put vocalist Greta Matassa in the same boat with [Jessica] Williams in terms of her lack of widespread renown and recognition on the part of fans and critics. In the liner notes to her new album, I Wanna Be Loved, Will Friedwald attributes his unfamiliarity with Matassa to his “highly provincial Metro-centric viewpoint.” He admits that he can’t understand his ignorance of such a compelling performer who has released eight albums and performed across the United States (but not in NYC), Europe and Asia. After only a few tracks into my first listen of Matassa’s latest, numerous thoughts entered my mind: wow, this swings hard; tight arrangements; her scatting on the spirited opener “Broadway” is as confident, nimble and energetic as Ella’s; her phrasing is hip like Nancy Wilson; Matassa’s got her own unique style; good soloists, etc. Obviously these are thoughts that should be associated with a widely known veteran, not with an artist who is relatively unknown to the larger jazz establishment.
Pianist Tamir Hendelman, who plays with the Jeff Hamilton Trio and the Clayton-Hamilton Big Band, provides the arrangements along with Kuno Schmid, who wrote string arrangements for three of the album’s eleven tracks. The arrangements are hip, tasteful, effective, masterfully executed, and have that slick and polished feel of some of the music coming out of LA’s movie studios. Schmid’s string arrangements are gorgeous and have an expansive atmosphere, adding an element of grandeur and drama to Matassa’s strong voice, especially on Herbie Hancock and Stevie Wonder’s “Chan’s Song,” which sounds like it would do well on Broadway or in a movie. Matassa is accompanied on the other eight tracks by small groups which range anywhere from a trio to a sextet. The varied personnel and instrumentation of the backing combos gives the listener a diversity of timbres and textures, from Steve Wilkerson’s rousing tenor solos on “Broadway” and the title track, to Schmid’s short harmonica synthesizer solos on “You’ll See” and Al Jarreau’s “Save Me,” to Christian Howes’ bluesy violin obbligato lines on the closing track “All Night Long.” Matassa’s voice is strong, rich, and she often finishes phrases and long notes with ample amounts of wide vibrato, and her delivery often evokes a joyful optimism on the future in love and life in general. I Wanna Be Loved is well done and a fine album by one of Seattle’s pre-eminent vocalists. The cynic in me says that these two albums won’t do much to neutralize the jazz establishment’s East Coast bias, although Friedwald admits Matassa’s album will help cure him of his “Metro-Provincialism.” The optimist/realist in me says that Matassa’s and Williams’ recent offerings should help turn some ears toward the Puget Sound and help the uninitiated learn what jazz fans in Seattle have known for years: Seattle has it goin’ on.
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