Matthias Lupri, Roy Haynes
January 1, 1970The main piece this week was the column, which was about vibraphonist-composer Matthias Lupri. I'm just back from catching him at the Gardner Museum. He's even more enjoyable live than on disc.
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Now a hard-working composer, Lupri makes up for lost time
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | March 4, 2005
There's a certain irony in Matthias Lupri having written a 12-part suite for his most recent CD, "Transition Sonic."
The Boston-based vibraphonist got his start in the 1980s as a Calgary, Alberta-based hard rock drummer. Back then, Lupri couldn't write a song, much less a suite. And the fact that his then-bandmates knew enough basic music theory to pen music and he didn't began grating on him.
"All these people were bringing their own original music into the sessions," said Lupri, who will be performing selections from his disc at the Gardner Museum tomorrow afternoon with Grammy-nominated saxophonist Donny McCaslin as his guest. "And I was just kind of playing drums, and not really understanding musically what was going on."
Lupri wanted to learn, and he enrolled in a two-year jazz program at Mount Royal College in Calgary to do so. It was there he was introduced to vibes, and to the music of Gary Burton, in particular Burton's 1978 album "Times Square," which Lupri says "turned my head around about wanting to play jazz."
But Lupri was still several years away from transforming himself into a jazz musician and composer.
Lupri spent the latter half of the 1980s continuing to tour with a rock band, and lugging a set of vibes on the band bus with him so that he could practice jazz to instructional records in hotel rooms between gigs. By this time, he was wearying of the rock 'n' roll life and the hard partying that went with it.
In 1990, Lupri moved to Boston and enrolled at the Berklee College of Music. There he worked with a succession of vibes teachers, culminating with Burton. He graduated in 1994, a few months shy of turning 30.
Since then, he's been making up for lost time. Lupri has put out four CDs of original work since 1998, the first three featuring such musicians as Sebastiaan de Krom (now with Jamie Cullum), John Lockwood and George Garzone (both of the Fringe), and guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel.
"Transition Sonic" is Lupri's most ambitious recording to date. On it, he shares the front line with trumpeter Cuong Vu (Pat Metheny) and saxophonist Mark Turner, backed by a rhythm section rounded out by guitarist Nate Radley, bassist Thomson Kneeland, and drummer Jordan Perlson. McCaslin, a finalist for best jazz instrumental solo at this year's Grammys, will be filling in for Vu and Turner at the Gardner.
"I have a long history with the vibes," says McCaslin, whose father, Don McCaslin, also plays them. McCaslin has logged stints with Burton and with vibraphonist Mike Manieri's group Steps Ahead, and he says he's intrigued by the technical challenge of Lupri's use of mixed meter in his compositions.
Less technically minded listeners are intrigued by Lupri's evocative use of space, mood, and color in his compositions, and the way his tunes are attempts to give sonic expression to experiences from his life. His tune "Prairie," for example, evokes his watching the northern lights dance as a boy in the Rocky Mountain foothills near Calgary. "The Day After" is a ballad written in response to 9/11. And "The Middle Zone" is a progress report on Lupri's musical development.
Next up for Lupri is composing another suite, this one in 10 movements, a task being underwritten by a 2004 grant from the Chamber Music America/Doris Duke Jazz Ensembles Project. Some of that new work, Lupri says, may be unveiled at the Gardner tomorrow. In any case, the prestigious grant marks quite a transition for a guy who not so long ago was struggling through Mount Royal College.
"There's a certain zone in music where you're trying to get to musically, technically, spiritually," says Lupri, who just turned 40. "You're always trying to get there. And I sort of feel I've put in my time and paid my dues for quite a number of years, and I feel like I'm halfway there. I still kind of feel like a baby, too. I didn't start playing this instrument until I was 22, 23. So I kind of just feel like I'm halfway there."
The Matthias Lupri Group with Donny McCaslin will perform at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. $5-$20. Call 617-278-5116.
Creative use of space: Lupri's performance isn't the only jazz taking place at an unusual venue this weekend. Alto saxophonist Tim Berne will lead the trio Acoustic Hard Cell — with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Tom Rainey — at the Institute of Contemporary Art Sunday night, as the Boston Creative Music Alliance gets its 2005 concert season underway. Tickets: $10 general admission, $8 students and seniors. Call 617-354-6898 for tickets, 617-628-4342 for more info.
Teaming with ideas: Tonight at 8, author Paul Auster and clarinetist Don Byron will be guest artists with the MIT Festival Jazz Ensemble and clarinetist Evan Ziporyn in a program called "Words and Music and Other Sonic Collaborations" at MIT's Kresge Auditorium. Byron's own backing band at the concert will include guitarist David Gilmore, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, and drummer Ben Wittman. Admission costs $5 at the door (48 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge). Call 617-253-9800.
© Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company
Calendar Jazz Picks
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Roy Haynes Scullers, DoubleTree Hotels Guest Suites, 400 Soldiers Road, Boston. 617-562-4111. 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. $22, $60 with dinner. Also Saturday.
The man Pat Metheny calls "the father of modern jazz drumming" returns home, a week shy of his 80th birthday yet playing as strong as ever. He dazzled at Newport last summer with McCoy Tyner, and his aptly named CD "Fountain of Youth" was a finalist for best jazz album at this year's Grammy Awards, losing out to Tyner's "Illuminations." Haynes cleaned up as best drummer in the various Down Beat and JazzTimes critics' and readers' polls, and was voted into Down Beat's Hall of Fame. But the Roxbury native's accomplishments over the previous six decades are equally impressive. He recorded on more than 600 albums, many of them classics, and his sideman stints involved big names ranging from Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis up through present-day stars such as Chick Corea and Metheny. As Haynes's "Fountain of Youth" sideman Marcus Strickland puts it: "Virtually every prolific jazz musician that I listen to, spanning from the 1940's to now, has done at least two recordings with Roy Haynes on it - I can't think of anyone else I can say that about."
Sat 3-5 Omar Sosa & Mino Cinelu Duo Cuban pianist-composer Omar Sosa and onetime Miles Davis percussionist Mino Cinelu explore Afro-Cuban rhythms in a duet set. Regattabar, Charles Hotel, One Bennett St., Cambridge. 617-395-7757. 7:30 p.m. $20.