This past February, trombonist Matt Hall released his debut album, I Hope To My Never through Summit Records. Released Feb. 18, the nine-song record is an enjoyable first outing for the United States Marine Corps veteran, who also spent some time performing with the USMC Jazz Orchestra during his time with the Marines. That is in large part to the record’s featured arrangements, which will be discussed shortly. While the arrangements that make up the record’s body form a strong foundation for the presentation, the record is not perfect. Its lack of any background on the songs detracts from the listening experience to a point. This will be discussed a little later. The record’s production puts the finishing touch to the whole and when considered along with the arrangements, serves to make the presentation a sort of record that so many jazz fans hope to take in every year.
I Hope To My Never is an impressive debut outing for trombonist and USMC veteran Matt Hall. Its success comes in large part through its featured arrangements. The arrangements are in large part originals. The only cover featured in the record is that of Jimmy Van Heusen and Eddie DeLange’s ‘Deep In A Dream.’ That is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. Hall is joined by five other musicians — Charlie Arbelaez (alto saxophone), Louis Valenzuela (guitar), Jason Shattil (piano), Mackenzie Leighton (upright bass), and Kevin Kanner (drums) — to make a sextet which interestingly sounds a lot more like a big band. Whether that is through the production (which will be addressed later) or just through the pure talent of the collective or even maybe both, the fact that a sextet can make each song sound like a much larger organization is in itself positive. What’s more, the stylistic approach taken to each song is just as impressive. Case in point is the album’s title track. The subtleties of Hall’s performance on the trombone alongside those of Leighton, Shattil, and Kanner is a dual stylistic approach. The noted big band feel is there, but so is the feel of a much more intimate group because of the control and obvious focus that each musician displays. Each member of the group expertly compliments his counterparts throughout so well.
On another note, a song, such as ‘Spearhead’ kicks things up and swings. There is something about the balance of Hall’s performance here alongside his fellow musicians that really harkens back to the big band swing sounds of the late 1940s and early to mid 1950s. The light, bouncy approach that Hall takes as he leads the way here is so entertaining but not overpowering. As Arbelaez joins in and gets his moment to shine, he takes just as much advantage of the situation. Meanwhile, Kanner solidly keeps time to keep the composition flowing. The light approach here is in direct contrast to that of the album’s title track, showing clearly how the album’s compositions ensure listeners’ engagement and entertainment.
Going into even more depth, ‘The Tiger’s Ritual,’ which comes even later in the album’s run, changes things up even more. The flourishes on the cymbals and piano that fill out the composition’s opening bars set quite the scene. As the song progresses, the mood relaxes but stays so positive along the way. The mood that Hall and company is so cool and calm. It paints a picture of the high class jazz clubs of days gone by, again all while still maintaining that big band feel even despite being a sextet. Simply put, the arrangement easily holds its own alongside the other arrangements examined here and the rest of the album’s entries. When it is considered along with the rest of the record’s works, the whole presents plenty of musical variety whose varying big band sounds and styles (again despite being a sextet) are sure to engage and entertain audiences.
While the arrangements that make up the body of I Hope To My Never do plenty to ensure audiences’ engagement and entertainment, the lack of any background on the songs in the album’s packaging detracts from the overall listening experience at least to a point. The extent of background comes in the form of a very brief explanation for the song, ‘3G’ by Emmy Award-winning writer/composer Dave Scott. Scott explains that the title is a reference to the number of Arbelaez’s New York City apartment. Other than that, there is no background on the songs. This critic has pointed out countless times in the past that when it comes to instrumental music of any kind, some background is needed for songs, so as to deepen the engagement and entertainment of said presentations. That is not to say that a lack of information makes such music not worth hearing, but having that information would certainly increase the music’s appeal. To that end, it would certainly have been nice to have had that background here. Either way, the lack of that background is not enough to make the record a failure by any means. It just would have helped its appeal to have had that information.
Knowing that the lack of background on the album’s songs far from dooms the album, there is one more item to acknowledge that makes it worth hearing. That item is the record’s production. The production ensures that each musician’s performance gets its own attention as it is balanced expertly with its counterparts. Regardless of whether it is in the more swinging moments or the more relaxed, subdued moments, each composition’s production brings out the best of each musician’s performance. The end result is a general effect that makes the album just as worth hearing as the record’s songs. Keeping that in mind, the two elements make for more than enough reason for any jazz fan to hear this record.
I Hope To My Never, the debut album from Matt Hall is an impressive first outing from the jazz trombonist and USMC veteran. Its appeal comes in no small part to its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements are by and large originals, save for one song. They are also distinctly different from one to the next from beginning to next in terms of their sound and style. What’s more they present a sound of the big bands from the 1940s and 50s even being performed by a sextet. While the featured compositions do plenty to make the album well worth hearing, the lack of background on the songs does detract from the album’s presentation to a point. It is not enough to doom the record, but certainly would have enhanced the presentation. The record’s production puts the finishing touch to its presentation, ensuring that its general effect proves just as positive as its content. Keeping all of this in mind, I Hope To My Never is a record that any jazz fan should hope to hear.
I Hope To My Never is available through Summit Records. More information on the album is available along with all of Matt Hall’s latest news at https://www.facebook.com/matthalljazz.
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