Matthew FriesLost TimeXcappa

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Spurred by the tragic loss of his mother and stepfather in 2020, Fries develops new book of original pieces featuring John Hébert (bass) and Keith Hall (drums)
Session produced by Andrew Rathbun
Pianist Matthew Fries — accomplished leader, coleader and sideman, mentee of Donald Brown, James Williams and Mulgrew Miller, esteemed professor of piano and jazz studies at Western Michigan University — is proud to announce the release of Lost Time, a stirring new album of original compositions performed by a trio with bassist John Hébert and drummer Keith HallLost Time varies widely in color and mood even as it documents a cohesive aesthetic, animated by the deep lyricism and swing of Fries’ writing. Threading together formative influences in his own inimitable voice, Fries contemplates life at a time when tragic loss and long-sought artistic clarity and progress exist side by side. 

In 2020 Fries lost his mother and stepfather. COVID was not the cause, but the circumstances meant that his mother, with severe dementia, would spend her final days trapped and alone, unable to communicate. “The album itself is sort of a love letter to her,” says Fries. “There are so many things I’ve been led to reconsider in my life — maybe it’s inevitably part of losing a parent — and this definitely affected my commitment to the music I create.” 

Reflecting on Lost Time and the achingly beautiful, Keith Jarrett-influenced title track dedicated to his mother, Fries submits that there are lots of ways time can be “lost.” There is of course the painful sense of missing out, of isolation from family — all the travails brought on by the pandemic, when most of these pieces were written, including the elegant “Continuum” and the alert swing vehicle “Quarantine.” There’s also the sense, Fries adds, “of time seeming to stop, or becoming irrelevant because of what is happening around you. Time kind of became irrelevant, got lost or ended for many of us during 2020.” And yet the nourishing work of creativity went on, new connections were forged, and the soaring, unpredictable arc of Lost Time is Fries’ way of bearing witness to that.

The connection between Fries and Hall runs deep: together with bassist Phil Palombi they co-lead the collaborative trio TRI-FI, an endeavor born of their shared experience as longtime sidemen for singer-songwriter and saxophonist Curtis Stigers. While TRI-FI serves as a platform for the compositions of all three members, Lost Time shifts the focus decisively to Fries himself, even as the spirit of democratic interplay remains. “I’ve always known Keith to be a beautiful orchestrator of my compositions,” Fries says. “We’ve been playing together for so long that we always find spots to phrase together or play off each other.” Hébert, a fine bandleader and sought-after associate of Fred Hersch, Andrew Hill and other greats, is also a faculty colleague of both Fries and Hall at Western Michigan University.
Andrew Rathbun, acclaimed saxophonist and WMU faculty colleague as well, served as an objective set of ears in the booth and thus gets credit as producer of the Lost Time recording session. (He also plays on Hall’s 2022 debut as a leader, Made in Kalamazoo, alongside the great Robert Hurst on bass.) “I’ve been playing a lot of Andrew’s music lately and it has opened up my playing in unexpected ways,” says Fries. “At the session he was very proactive with suggestions about everything from tempos to form to solo changes, and he did so much to keep the session moving.” 

There is a polyphonic intricacy to Fries’ writing on the opener “The Fog” as well as “Heroes,” the latter a tribute to the late Chick Corea with rhythmic modulation and an open solo feature for Hall on drums. Fries mentions his admiration for Geoffrey Keezer and Renee Rosnes, in addition to Corea and his mentor Donald Brown, when it comes to writing in this vein with vamps, accents, doubled bass lines and the like. Hébert thrives in his element on the free, atmospheric intro to “Insomnia,” before playing the initial melody to change up the group texture (a suggestion from Rathbun). There’s also the imprint of the blues in “June Blues,” a 14-bar structure with the melody reversed in the second phrase. Both “June Blues” and the lilting 5/4 piece “Nine Robins” will be available for streaming and download only, not on vinyl

In addition to his leader output, his work with TRI-FI and Curtis Stigers, Fries has performed with Stacey Kent, Ann Hampton Callaway, DeeDee Bridgewater, Vincent Herring, Steve Wilson, Joel Frahm, Steve LaSpina, Dave Samuels, Claudio Roditi, Terell Stafford and many others. He lived in New York for almost 25 years playing with a host of greats and bringing his artistry to the next level. Holding degrees from Ithaca College and the University of Tennessee, he won the Great American Jazz Piano Competition in 1997 and was runner-up in the American Pianists Association Jazz Piano Competition. Fries’ recognizable style is authentically rooted in the tradition of the classic jazz pianists, while still looking forward to the future of the music and the instrument. His playing is by turns hopeful, introspective, full of joy and wonderment, awash with tonal colors, with a deeply swinging collaborative spirit that has made him an in-demand sideman for instrumentalists and vocalists. His recent releases include the solo piano project Parallel States and The Duo Live with bassist Phil Palombi.


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