Smart MatterSGL 1590-2
“Turtleboy is an exciting amalgamation of the Paul Motian Trio, Radiohead, and so much more. This group is on the vanguard of the horn-guitar-drums format and barreling ahead full speed.”
It all started in 2006 when a couple of friends made the pilgrimage to the Vanguard for a week to see their favourite band, the Paul Motian Trio. Jonathan Lindhorst: “So we marched into the green room and introduced ourselves to Frisell and Lovano. They were both incredibly nice to us….I even got a chance to sit in with Lovano and his trio….Anyway, we walked away from that experience with the idea of forming our own bassless trio….” Which they did a year later during the Montreal Jazz Festival with the addition of Adam Miller, who had recently returned from 8 months in India (where he’d studied tabla and singing) and from the Banff jazz workshop (where he’d been focusing on Paul Motian’s music): “After that gig we all looked at each other and seemed to know that there was some sort of chemistry that we hadn’t come across before.” The first flash of success came fast – a 6-week career-development residency at Banff, a Canadian tour, a self-produced record – and in 2009 they attended the Banff jazz workshop under Dave Douglas, who recommended them to Songlines. The trio are now based in NYC and working to expand their following into the US and Europe.
Smart Matter reveals a talented, big-ears collective who love playing together and are always looking for new ways to reach listeners with music that doesn’t sacrifice smarts to accessibility (and vice versa). They’ve integrated their influences (including Stan Getz and Bill McHenry, Wayne Krantz and Ben Monder, and Radiohead and electronica and for Adam) into an original sound. As their press kit puts it, “Turtleboy blends concepts from free jazz and other parts of the jazz tradition with aspects of indie rock, creating an experience that is ‘steeped in atmospheric space, loose grooves and intelligent improvised interactions.’ More often than not the emphasis is on a group sound and collective improvisation rather than any one person’s solo, and the band has worked tirelessly to create a seamless blend of total music.” The twin poles of ambient soundscaping and prog rock are noticeable here and there, as are grunge and minimalism; throughout there’s an emphasis on melody and concision. The record includes a Radiohead cover (“Pyramid Song”) and a classic of Canadian folk, “Northwest Passage”, in an instrumental/vocal arrangement (wordless vocals are used on some other tunes as texture). All three musicians contribute two or three compositions each.
This is a band that clearly values emotional connection and beauty over hipness or technical complexity. As Jon admits, “As a sax player I’m envious of the ability of singers to communicate their message in such a direct way….Some days I dream of throwing away the sax, learning guitar, changing my name, and forming a rock band…and we’re going in that direction. We approach this band like it’s a rock band, both in identity and musical structure. Some of the newer tunes that Ryan has brought in are folkier than ever, and we’re playing more covers all the time, just for fun.” Are they also moving towards a more vocally-oriented repertoire? Adam: “I’ve been writing more songs with lyrics lately so we’ll see.” They look to The Bad Plus as a role model, says Ryan: “They’ve managed to come up with a musically sophisticated sound that appeals to a very wide audience.” But equally they’re attracted to Alas No Axis. Jon: “If we can break out of the avant-garde jazz world, that’d be nice. But I still love, LOVE, avant-garde music, and no matter what I do, my music is always going to have a bit of a twist to it.”
And the name Turtleboy? Turns out it was inspired by Paul Motian – Jon: “Honestly, the first time I saw Paul play I thought he looked like a turtle. He’s bald and really skinny, and was wearing a green wool sweater….In keeping with my esoteric sense of humour, and love of sci-fi and comics, I also created a Turtleboy character with a whole backstory.” But, says Adam, “In Smart Matter it’s taken on an aspect of turtle symbolism, such as patience, wisdom and so forth. Also, there are various creation myths that have the world on the back of a turtle….These ideas are beginning to give the name Turtleboy a more cosmic reference.”
“Canadian trio Turtleboy is definitely melodically inclined but also quite trippy and their sax/guitar/drums lineup creates an airy feel that is used to best advantage on Smart Matter’s longer excursions. Tenor saxophonist Jonathan Lindhorst is the jazz maven of the group while electric guitarist Ryan Butler adeptly straddles a heady jazz/rock intersection, not through searing blues-based guitar licks but more with delicate arpeggios and grindingly hypnotic chordal palettes. While the lineup draws inspiration from other like-constructed jazz trios, Turtleboy owes as much to ‘90s grunge and Pink Floyd as it does to drummer Paul Motian’s trio. Like Motian, however, drummer Adam Miller is an equal partner and as much a jazz/rock denizen as Butler while being beautifully textural…Lindhorst is an expressively vocal tenor player whether he is stating a catchy melody, wailing a line over which Butler can solo or blowing full bore in tandem with guitar. He also blends remarkably well with some overt vocalizing by the other bandmembers…For this sophomore offering, Turtleboy do stick their necks out a bit more to reveal a well-developed group dynamic and a heady compositional sophistication.” – Elliott Simon, NYC Jazz Record
“…Turtleboy shares the same formulation as Motian’s combo, but the sound coming from them is quite different, even though they caught Motian’s adventurous spirit. The younger guys combine alt-rock with progressive jazz, but the absence of bass makes the music airier than it would otherwise be by combining these two music forms. Their alt-rock fealty is confirmed with a Radiohead cover (‘Pyramid Song’), but there’s improvisational mojo going on all over, and more often it’s going on a group level than an individual one. Miller’s wordless vocals on some cuts like ‘Smart Matter’ and ‘Vampyroteuthus Infernalis’ amplify the melodies well…Combining the directness and resonance of indie rock with the sophistication and unpredictability of avant garde jazz, Turtleboy’s Smart Matter transcribes the ideas of Motian for a younger generation.” – S. Victor Aaron, Something Else!