Review of BECOME GIANT by ‘A Closer Listen’

Matt Ulery ~ Become Giant

After a dozen albums, bassist Matt Ulery is still stretching his boundaries.  For the first few minutes of Become Giant, one doesn’t even hear him, focusing instead on the strings.  Violinist Zach Brock and Chicago’s KAIA String Quartet are the guest stars on this colorful release, comprised of the ten-movement title track and the eleven-minute “Shine Faintly With a Wavering Glow.”  While jazz remains an influence ~ especially in the improvisations ~ the album falls firmly within the grip of modern composition.

Those early moments ~ serious, somber, slow ~ set the baseline for the album to expand.  According to Brock, “giant” may refer to a new sound or approach.  As the second and third movements adopt a percussive and lilting timbre, one grows interested in the arc.

While the composition took form over a period of years, spaces were left for the performers to romp and explore.  The contrast between plucks and drawn bows is exquisite.  Jon Deitemyer’s drums steer the tone ever-so-slightly toward post-rock.  In the fourth movement, the ensemble seems ready to drive into that neighborhood until Brock takes solo stage.  The improvisational freedom means that every performance will be a little bit different, the studio set even more so, one movement and ten minutes briefer than the notes.

Time and time again, the ensemble floats back to those initial moments of sobriety, but seems too joyful to remain in that space for long.  The appeal of “Becoming Giant” is its seeming inability to stay down: an aural encouragement for our times, borne on the strings of performers who clearly love being in the same room after rehearsing apart.  By the ninth movement, there is dancing in the streets.

In contrast, “Shine Faintly With a Wavering Glow” is a slow builder, as befits its title.  The candle seems ever in danger of being extinguished, the breeze threatening to increase to wind.  And yet the weather holds; the light remains intact; the tumult recedes, and a sense of equilibrium is restored.  By the end, the listener feels enriched, enlarged, become giant.  (Richard Allen)

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