INTERVIEW: Matthew Read (Matthew Read Trio – CD Anecdotes II out 9 February, and touring)

The Matthew Read Trio (from left): Andrew Newell, Matthew Read and Benedict Wood
Photo credit: Stew Capper

MATTHEW READ has a new album coming out, as well as an extensive UK tour, with drummer Andrew Newell and guitarist Benedict Wood. He tells Editor-at-Large Peter Bacon why three is not a crowd, how he chooses to record a double bass, and why telling stories is important.

LondonJazz News: Your new album with Arthur Newell on drums and Benedict Wood on guitar is called Anecdotes II. Is there a Volume I?

Matthew Read: Strictly speaking we don’t have an album called Anecdotes Volume I but our first album is called Anecdotes. We released it a few years back and are still really proud of it. When we were rehearsing the new album it really felt like its own thing and a new sound for us. It wasn’t until we got to the studio however that we realised that there are a lot of similarities both in the sound and content. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy with the progression we have made and the albums do sound distinctly different, but we are extremely proud of having a sound. By calling this record Volume II, it’s a nod to what we like to jokingly refer to as the “Anecdotes sound”.

LJN: You’ve played in many larger groups and big bands. What do you like about this trio format?

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MR: Whilst I was at Guildhall I attended a master class in which Martin France likened ensembles to stools. He said that a stool with one leg is very hard to control and you are likely to fall flat on your face. Two legs are easier, but still a great challenge. A three-legged stool however is extremely hard to topple – each leg takes an equal amount of weight and plays an equally important role in supporting both the stool and the person sitting on it. Once you get past three legs, each one you add has less responsibility and becomes more and more gratuitous. I couldn’t put it better myself.

For me, the trio setting gives as much opportunity to the drummer to play the melody as it does the guitarist or bassist. Everyone’s interjections are as important as each others’ and that sense of responsibility leads to what I believe to be the most intimate setting to play improvised music.

LJN: The sound of your bass on the recording is one of its chief pleasures for me. It sounds like you’re in the room, just between my hifi speakers. What’s the secret? (And don’t just wave your fingers at me in Jaco Pastorius fashion – ha ha!). You can get geeky if you wish… I’m genuinely interested in how it was recorded.

MR: I’ve always loved reading and watching documentaries about the recording process. The time spent getting everything perfect has always seemed to me to be as important as the notes you play in the studio. We’ve recorded both albums now with the same engineer, an amazing guy called Owain Fleetwood-Jenkins who runs Studiowz – a studio in Pembrokeshire packed full of retro gear. Each time we’ve been to see Owz we’ve spent five days in the studio. The first day is always spent getting the drum sound and the second is for getting the guitar and bass sounds. We try every mic combination under the sun, listen to a lot of reference tracks of the tones we love and really take the time to make the sound as close to how we want it as is humanly possible. The references we worked from for the bass sound on this album were Thomas Morgan on Jakob Bro’s album Gefion, Larry Grenadier on Art of the Trio Volume 4 and Charlie Haden on the Konitz, Mehldau, Haden & Motian album Live At Birdland.

In the end we used a Gefell umt70s and a handmade Stager SR-2N stereo ribbon mic, using the mid side technique, as we found they gave the most realistic representation of my tone with a nice, not too intrusive click on the front of the notes. We recorded the first album with an Electrovoice RE20 just in front of the bridge for exactly the same reasons; however, with the same microphone, the same strings on the same bass and in the same position in the same room it just didn’t sound quite right the second time. It’s funny how these things happen.

 LJN: Tell me about Arthur and Benedict. How do you know them, and why do you work with them?

MR: For me the whole point of having a band is that you create a group atmosphere where everyone feels completely at ease and able to say whatever they want, be that musically or verbally. If we were to talk about the Coltrane Quartet or Oscar Peterson Trio or Miles’ Second Quintet, you don’t just think of Coltrane, Oscar or Miles, but also McCoy, Jimmy Garrison, Elvin, Ray Brown, Ed Thigpen, Wayne, Herbie, Ron and Tony. Those bands aren’t just made by the leaders – everyone has a controlling stake in what is said.

Arthur and Benedict were both the year below me at Guildhall and we all ended up playing in a quintet with two mutual friends. As I mentioned earlier, the trio has always been the ultimate line-up for me and I was also intrigued by writing for guitar as it is a much more restrictive instrument than the piano. I instantly liked the cool with which Benedict played everything and the commitment that Arthur put in to the groove. I wrote a few tunes and we got together to play them. Looking back I definitely wouldn’t want to listen to any of the stuff we played then, but there was a tangible vibe beyond the notes that intrigued me.

We rehearsed twice a week for the first year and really forged an understanding that you don’t get in pick-up bands or bands with flexible memberships. Playing with Art and Bena is like playing with two extensions of myself – we always seem to be on the same wavelength and that has to be the greatest feeling of all when playing in a band. Even when it’s hard, it’s easy.

 LJN: The song titles are intriguing, ranging from a single letter, one which I assume refers to drummer Paul Motian, and one named for two famous murderers. Tell me more…

MR: No matter what I listen to, the best music always tells a story – you can watch it unfold in your mind’s eye and feel the raw human emotions of the musicians. Similarly, I have always preferred composing with a story in mind. The abstract nature of turning an anecdote into music has always appealed to me as there is no right or wrong, only the emotional connection between the two. The whole point of both the original Anecdotes and Volume II is this idea of storytelling – whether it’s something that actually happened to me, an imagined scenario or even a musical portrait. I suppose that the stories on both albums have no causal link beyond myself, but they all have stories or personalities behind them that stick in my mind.

I spent a period of time pairing people together who have no real-world links and writing music that captures how I imagine that would be. K. is one of these tunes and is the music that I imagine Kendrick Lamar and Kurt Rosenwinkel would play if they got together. I’m still working on one for Ornette Coleman and Alan Partridge…

The stories really work best paired with the music though. I like to tell them on gigs and they have become an integral part of the live show. You should definitely come down to a show and check them out!

LJN: The music reminds me more of what is coming out of young bands in Scandinavia, rather than in the UK or America. Tell me about the influences upon your music.

MR: As you can probably tell by the list of reference albums that I took to the studio, I love ECM. Actually, scratch that. We love ECM. If we’re ever stuck creatively I like to ask myself “What would Manfred do?”

All joking aside, I suppose that my parents were the first people to expose me to jazz. When I was little, they had a vinyl of Weather Report’s Heavy Weather that they used to play for me and my brother to dance to so that we’d tire ourselves out. We’d go mad to Birdland and crash out on the sofa as soon as A Remark You Made came on.

We also used to go and see loads of gigs and saw Jarrett two or three times, EST two or three times, Wayne Shorter Quartet, Brad Mehldau Trio, Dave Holland and Chris Potter, Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland and Phronesis. My parents were long time Loose Tubes fanatics and I was more likely to get a left field jazz album for Christmas than anything else.

I remember having a conversation with my dad when I’d just started learning to play jazz and all I was listening to was Charlie Parker and Miles’ four Prestige Sessions albums. He said something to me like “I guess all that stuff’s cool, but why play it now? It already happened 60 years ago! Why not do something new?” I suppose that as long as I can remember, it’s been in my mind that making music is really about creating music instead of recreating it. I wouldn’t say that we strive to make music that sounds like it comes from any particular place, but instead want to make music that sounds like us. It only makes sense that you can hear our ECM obsession in our music. Hopefully you can hear other things in there too!

LJN: You’re about to tour extensively. Can listeners expect the album? Or will you be including other material too?

MR: As with many jazz groups, we’re very conscious of making each individual gig as organic as is possible. Because of this, we very rarely work out a set list so that we can make sure that each track fits best where it is in the night. We’ll be playing music from both albums (mainly Volume II) and also some new material that we are working on for the prospective Anecdotes Volume III. We’ve always looked at making albums as a way of cataloguing where we are at a set place in time and want our tour to be the same. Come down and hear three volumes of Anecdotes in one night!

Anecdotes II is released on 9 February and the Matthew Read Trio is touring from 25 January starting  with the early set at Ronnie Scott’s, and taking in York, Liverpool, Newcastle, Ambleside, Kenilworth, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Leeds, Maidstone, Southampton, Birmingham, Cambridge, Cardiff, Bristol, Basingstoke, Maidenhead and Torquay. The album launch is at Kansas Smitty’s in London on 15 February. (pp)

LINK: Matthew Read’s website with full touring details

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