Jazz For Life by Jeanne McCartin
By Jeanné McCartin
March 18, 2012 2:00 AM
Look no further than saxophonist Matt Currier Langley to witness the power of a great teacher. Langley started with his first instrument in fourth grade. But it was Gerry Mark, a teacher at Rundlett Junior High School in Concord, who opened his heart to the magic of music. “He was a great band director, he would let us improvise; back (in the 1970s) it was pretty crazy,” says Langley. “He’d done a lot of gigs and was into letting everybody do as much as they wanted to do. If you showed interest, he’d feed you information. He was great that way.”
That was all it took for a lifelong jazz passion to be born. “With jazz, probably the biggest thing is the freedom. It changes every time you play it.” Which in the case of Langley is a lot. Currently, Langley plays with the Boston-based Combo Sabroso, led by Matt Jenson, and the Maine-based Grupo Mofungo, led by Andres Espinosa, both Latin bands. There’s the jazz band Charlie Kohlhase Explorer’s Club, in Boston, and the Seacoast-based jazz groups Aporkalypse Now, led by Jonny Peiffer; Publick House Nonet co-led by Nick Mainella and Zach Lange and F-TET Mike Effenberger’s band. Langley, who has performed professionally since graduating high school, also has a steady gig at the Second Congregational Church in Kittery, Maine. And then there’s the Matt Langley/Tim O’Dell Quartet.
There’s also Eyes and Ears, a jazz performance project with painter Roger Goldenberg at the canvas. Langley is the ever-changing band’s leader. The way it works is Goldenberg paints, they play. This isn’t background music, or a bit of visual to accompany a concert. It’s two arts feeding and inspiring one another. The two men’s paths crossed frequently for some time. Goldenberg is a member of the Portsmouth Music and Art Center, and both frequent live music sessions. Eventually they started discussing collaboration. “Roger had done this thing up in Dartmouth, (painting) on stage with world-renowned pianist Mike Nelvion playing piano. I’d seen it online,” says Langley. “Along came the Dance Hall in Kittery, that Drika Overton opened. We all decided that would be a perfect place to do it.” They pulled in musicians Jamie Decato, Jim Dozet and Jon Peiffer, and Mike Marchand to record. No one really knew what to expect, says Langley. “We knew what we were going to do but had no idea how to set it up or how it would happen,” he recalls. The group rehearsed on location, with Goldenberg in attendance. The show went smoothly, and people stayed for the duration.
The second event saw a larger band, much of Publick House Nonet, along with Jim Rudolf, and Chris Klaxton; “a second drummer, three trumpet, three sax and a bass and key player.” This time, each was asked to write a piece specifically for the event. “The first time it kind of felt like the band was just playing, like (Roger and the band) were on to separate planets. We wanted the music to be a direct result of the painting and vice versa.” For his part Langley composed an introduction, then a color-wheel/canvas “score.” Each musician was appointed a color. When Goldenberg used it that musician played. In addition, each was given a sections “map” of the canvas, with specific instruction for each zone; for example, the top left called for slow tempo etc. “It was improv with instructions. …; So basically Roger was conducting the band.”
The project is “a huge leap of faith for everyone,” says Langley. Also a creative delight. They intend to take it on the road and are currently in talks with the N.H. Jazz Center. Langley’s other project is his quartet with O’Dell, (the key composer), rounded out with Luther Gray and Jim Lyden. “The sound is definitely jazz, straight ahead to more contemporary jazz. It can be a little free — improv, but it’s all very melodic, with two sax.” Long the “sideman” Langley has begun composing his own tunes. Sideman has and continues to serve him well, put him on the same stage with many great musicians, he says. He’s recorded with Kolhlhase Quintet, his former group Color, and recently with Pandelis Karayorgis’ System of 5. Additional stage and recording history includes working with Ron Carter, Richie Cole, Fred Hersch, John Tchicai, John Medeski, Billy Martin, Chris Wood, Dave Fuzinski, Matt Wilson, Charlie Kohlhase, Tiger Okoshi, Roswell Rudd, Gene McDaniels and many others.
“It’s been awesome because I can jump in and play with anybody,” he says. “You get to be part of the sound other people hear as part of their composing.” Creating his sound is a direct result of working along sideman of these musicians. “The incredible talent in this community,” he says. “They inspired me.”
Composing is also part of his teaching curriculum — yes today Langley is the one directing others to their muse. Beside his tenor and soprano sax he teaches clarinet, flute, trombone, “and I can keep up with an eighth-grader on the trumpet.” He currently instructs at Concord N.H. Community Music School, PMAC, the Shaker Road School in Concord, and at his home studio in Eliot, Maine. Whatever and wherever it is, you can bet there is a focus on jazz.
“Why jazz? What is it about it? It’s endless if you really pursue it, you can never be done.”