photo: courtesy of matt ulery
The bassist Matt Ulery was hardly an unknown quantity for Chicago-area jazz fans before 2012, having played on bandstands across the city in a number of different groups for years.
But even those familiar with his work probably didn’t see By a Little Light coming—the striking, expansive double-album of genre-agnostic original compositions wowed listeners and critics inside the jazz community and beyond.
After a whirlwind year of releasing and touring that project, Ulery returns to the Green Mill next weekend with his longtime quintet Loom to begin his next chapter.
By a Little Light is not a straight-ahead jazz record by any means, with its elements of folk and classical music. Was the genre-blurring something you set out specifically to accomplish with this project or did it just wander down that road as you began composing and putting things together?
As a bass player and a sideman in a lot of other bands, I get a chance to sample a lot of different kinds of music, so I think I tend to draw on all of those influences. This was really just a case of writing music for the sake of writing it, without the pressure of a specific project in mind. But once I started to bring it all together for a record, I heard all of these different instruments and voices, which is how it eventually expanded into a larger ensemble and a wider-ranging music.
You’ve been active on the local jazz scene for awhile now, but this record really seems like something of a coming-out party. Did you anticipate the warm reception and critical praise that it received or was that something of a surprise?
Greenleaf Music deserves a lot of the credit, I think. Being associated with (the trumpeter and Greenleaf label head) Dave Douglas and the artists on that label probably gave people another reason to listen to the record in the first place. But the reception was kind of a nice surprise. It motivates me to go out now and work even harder to try and reach the next level.
Between the album, the touring and a showcase concert at Millennium Park, 2012 was quite a year for you. What’s next?
I just finished recording an album with Loom (Wake and Echo, due out in July on Greenleaf), which features a slightly different lineup of my regular working group—Rob Clearfield on piano, Jon Deitemyer on drums, Geof Bradfield on reeds and Marquis Hill on trumpet. These are all new compositions, just a little edgier and stripped-down than what we did with By a Little Light, since it’s easier to get a quintet together than thirteen musicians. We’ll be playing tunes from the record Friday as a kind of sneak preview, with a full release weekend coming up at the Mill in mid-July.
Matt Ulery’s Loom plays Friday April 19 at 9:00 p.m. at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway St. $12.