Chicago-based composer and contrabassist Matt Ulery has been quietly churning out the most elegant, expressionistic, rewarding chamber jazz albums of this decade, including 2013's Wake An Echo with his Loom Quintet on Greenleaf Music. In the five years since, his instincts and predilections have led him to experiment with more vocal ballads (for Grażyna Auguścik and Sarah Marie Young on 2014's In The Ivory) and ambitious, adaptable ensembles like Loom/Large, which, at times, can feature a 27-piece orchestra as on Side A of 2016's Festival.
Bringing the the Triptych trio to Madison for this special Arts + Literature Laboratory performance, Ulery considerably scales down the approach to join up with two longtime friends, Grammy-winning violinist Zach Brock (based in New York City) and frequent collaborator, drummer Jon Deitemyer, who's also a member of Human Motion and Paul Mutzabaugh's Unknown New. Triptych appealingly fuses the eclectic sensibilities one might hear on any aforementioned record attributed to Ulery's name with a more direct sense of originating disciplines in post-bop, Appalachian/Balkan folk, Western neo-classical, and South American rhythms.
Ulery and Brock each possess an inimitable talent for crafting instantly memorable and wistful-sounding themes with unconventional phrasings and textures. And, with a nimbleness and steady hand, Deitemyer's playing energetically lifts the evocative melodies. If you're a fan of Tin Hat and Avishai Cohen (the bassist, not the trumpeter), this is can't-miss. —Grant Phipps