Acoustic Sounds

Sasha Matson

Molto Molto



Sasha Matson's "Molto Molto"

Label: Stereophile

Produced By: John Atkinson and Joe Harley

Engineered By: Ryan Streber at Oktaven Audio

Mixed By: Nicholas Prout at Chesky Studio

Mastered By: John Atkinson

Lacquers Cut By: LP Mastering by Joe Harley & Kevin Gray/Cohearent Audio

By: Michael Fremer

June 21st, 2023


Jazz Big Band



Sasha Matson's Latest Is a Trio of Works For Jazz Orchestra

the Jerry Garcia tribute is a highlight

Sasha Matson first came to the attention of many audiophiles with his 1993 Audioquest release "i-5/Steel Cords" (Audioquest AQ-LP 1013), which includes the most unusual "Works For Pedal Steel Guitar, Harp and Strings" and i-5" a paen to Interstate Highway 5, the road that in the late 1980s brought Matson from Berkeley to Los Angeles (the composer will probably tell me "paen" is the wrong word for his tribute, but that's okay).

A tape of that double LP/CD sent to KCRW's Tom Schnabel got his attention and that of his listeners and Matson was on his way. Actually, Matson had caught the attention of Joe Harley, now better known as "The Tone Poet", who back then was working for Audioquest and producing music for the company's record label, which over the years released many other notables on vinyl and CD.

Younger readers may not be aware of any of this. It's a history and a label worth exploring. Back then the recordings were all-analog, mostly put on tape by Michael C. Ross at Ocean Way on a custom modified ATR-100 2 track and mastered by Bernie Grundman. "Steel Cords", a triple concerto for pedal steel guitar, violins and strings was a favorite of the late Bob Reina who wrote for both The Absolute Sound and Stereophile. The piece began as an invitation from the composer John Adams to write a work for the Conservatory New Music Ensemble.

Sadly, Bob's no longer with us or I'd have asked him to review this latest Matson record, released on Stereophile's record label. Oh, I really liked that record back and and still do for both the music and sound. As Schnabel wrote in the annotation, "It is sensual, evocative, picturesque, challenging, lyrical and passionate."

Since the Audioquest release thirty years ago (!) Matson has kept busy composing, releasing records and writing equipment reviews for my "previous endeavor". I realize that whatever i write here will be taken by some as 'politics" so let me get this out of the way: even when i was happily employed over there, when Matson released Cooperstown "A Jazz Opera in Nine innings" I balked.

That said, I'm happy to pitch to you this eclectic, approachable and musically audacious new release, consisting of three works for Jazz Orchestra recorded mid-summer 2021 as Covid deaths spiked for the second time. No one on the cover was masked so I assume they were all vaccinated and feeling comfortably safe.

A large group of New York-based musicians gathered at Oktaven Audio, a spacious Mount Vernon, New York studio, not far from the city, August 14th and 15th of that year with an additional session on Sept. 13th. The brass section consisted of five trumpets, four trombones and a tuba. Five unspecified "winds" players were in the orchestra, which you'll have little trouble identifying thanks to a deft mix despite the leakage between microphones, that helped produce a natural, open soundstage. The rhythm section includes pianist Adam Birnbaum, who's featured on the opening three movement composition "Concerto For Piano & Jazz Orchestra", that commences with a bombastic, lumbering piece announced by an awakening piano grunt followed by a dizzying upward energy spiral. It's jazz, so it eventually swings, but with a heavy sledgehammer of a drum beat that's more Emerson, Lake and Palmer than Ellington.

After a few minutes those clouds lift and it becomes more Ellingtonian and traditional "big-bandish". Then back to the heavy beat with the horns sounding like, well, horns of the traffic variety. The horn charts behind the big drum beat exude a Gil Evans color palette that help float the picture. The second movement—"Distant and Sweet" is just that— a delicate impressionistic Debussy-like sketch that comes to an abrupt, side ending halt. The third movement "Molto Molto" lays off the heavy drum beat and so gives the group more of an opportunity to stretch out and swing, though the pile driver beat makes a few appearances followed by more musical impressionism with Birnbaum's cascading keyboards. The entire piece shifts, sometimes abruptly, between urban grit and bucolic reverie.

"Captain Trips"—Matson's Jerry Garcia tribute, with Steve Cardenas's guitar laying out clean, lovely lines, is sure to be the album's crowd pleaser. It gives drummer Charles Goold a chance to exhibit a light touch and Matson to demonstrate his arranging finesse.

I'll pass on a play-by-play of the the third piece "Symphony No. 3 For Jazz Orchestra". A few minutes in at high but pleasing SPLs my phone rang. It was my wife upstairs at work. Uh, oh. This usually means "turn that damn thing down! I can't hear myself think!" But no! This time she said "What is That?" I said "It's Sasha Matson's new record. He also writes for Stereophile". I expected that to get a rise out of her, but no! Instead she exclaimed, and I quote, "It's fucking amazing! I love it!" So there you have it. I second that emotion. This is not "jazz-rock" but it is jazz that rocks.

As for the sound, it took a big of getting used to. The timbral picture is kind of dark, as are some of the orchestrations. At first it sounded like a big band playing in a giant, warm, echoey cave. The drum kit in particular sounds not closely miked and so produces a large, almost menacing presence. Yet, the imaging is precise, or as my former editor John Atkinson writes in his notes, it produces "A viscerally exciting presentation of big band sound within classical forms. The more you listen, the more you will hear." For the vinyl version of this ProTools recording, co-producer Joe Harley writes, "...we (Joe and Kevin Gray)...did give a little bump around 10k to open up the presentation a bit". Good call!

Here's a taste via YouTube.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: STPH 023-1

Pressing Plant: RTI


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: Digital Files

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2023-07-13 10:52:07 AM

    Come on wrote:

    Besides the welcome slight treble bump, the LP on my system sounds mainly more dynamic, impactful and involving, more than a majority of other recordings make a difference between digital and LP in those characteristics. Worth the purchase definitely!