Tropes is an easy ride of an album. It hums along as shifting mood pieces. Drummer/composer Matt Mayhall in his debut release has made a particularly chill album that isn’t attempting to impose but is very free to emote. In doing so, the album feels much like a film score, backing moments one could easily imagine and frame.
The core of this group of Mayhall on percussion and keys working alongside Jeff Parker on guitar, who has proved to be an MVP of sorts, and Paul Bryan on electric bass guitar are strong, epitomizing that aforementioned moodiness. The chord changes here are subtle and sensible. There’s always a sense that these guys are just rolling along, taking part in a very easy to swallow, economical jam. The longest song, “A&A”, is just under six minutes and this isn’t common. It’s a tight half hour album that charms easily and leaves the listener wanting more while still satisfied. These songs aren’t excitable, at times almost reminiscent of moments of Pat Metheny’s Bright Size Life. They’re gentle hums.
This isn’t the call the album pleasant. It takes doing to create a series of compositions that can be so calm, so relatable, so digestible, and so not disposable. Finding the right times to expand this group sound to include contributions from tenor saxophonist Chris Speed or give the keys duty over to Jeff Babko to give Mayhall’s drumming some extra flair, given even more attention when the core sound is more about moods than flashiness. It also means knowing to close it all out by playing a simply beautiful solo piano tune, “Myopic”, in that same shifting moodiness that resounds through the rest of the album.
Tropes is a drummer focused album in that it is rooted in the essential factor that is support. It feels like good architecture, something to admire, something that is sturdy and built to last, something that is elemental and designed to seem simple but clearly cannot be once one knows the labor involved. Matt Mayhall knows what he’s doing as a composer and arranger, and moreso, he knows what he’s doing as a listener. That’s what makes his album so good. Mayhall in his debut album has crafted a resounding compositional voice and tone that is remarkably memorable and even more remarkably enchanting.
Tropes, the debut album from drummer/composer Matt Mayhall, is out now on Skirl Records.
Matt Mayhall – drums, percussion, piano, Wurlitzer electric piano, Mellotron, Yamaha PortaSound VSS-30
Jeff Parker – electric guitar
Paul Bryan – electric bass guitar
Chris Speed – tenor saxophone (“Dum Dum” and “Maybe Younger”)
Jeff Babko – Hammond B3 organ, Fender Rhodes, Roland SH-1000 (“On The Ceiling,” “Removed,” “Picture Day” and “A&A”)
All songs by Matt Mayhall (Matt Mayhall Songs, BMI)
Produced by Paul Bryan
Engineered, edited, and mixed by Paul Bryan at Mayberry PCH, Sept 2015 – June 2016
Jeff Babko recorded at TudorTones
Mastered by Dave Cooley at Elysian Masters, Los Angeles
Design by Mia Kirby
Nextbop Editor-in-Chief Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio and is also a contributing writer to DownBeat Magazine and the San Antonio Current.