Matt Skellenger Group brings original songs to life on “Vitality”

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Denver-based electric bassist Matt Skellenger released his fourth studio album April 26, 2019. Playing with the sextet known as the Matt Skellenger Group, Skellenger presents a recording of original songs that display a muscular musicality and an inspiring level of artfulness.

Though all the songs sound innovative and inspired, “Showtime” and “13 Past 11” are particular bright spots.

About Matt Skellenger Group

Skellenger is known for being forward-thinking. He uses creativity, progressive techniques and natural musical inclination to make music that has become increasingly unique.

Skellenger has been composing, performing and recording in the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains for 26 years. In 2002, Skellenger earned a B.A. in music from Metropolitan State College of Denver where he studied with renowned trumpted Ron Miles. Yet, Skellenger remained dedicated to the sound of the electric bass.

During 2004 to 2015, Skellenger attended Bass Nature Camps. There, he took the opportunity to work with Victor Wooten, Steve Bailey and Chuck Rainey. Wooten, Bailey and Rainey were all full-time instructors at the camps and influential bass players. At the 2005 Bass Nature Camp, Skellenger was awarded one of two scholarships to attend The Bass Collective in New York City for a week-long innovative course.

Skellenger’s skillset is wide-ranging. He can play in a number of genres and styles from jazz sextet to solo bass, from power rock to Americana and folk. On “Vitality,” Skellenger displays his ability to incorporate his inspiration into his most current recording.

Skellenger began releasing music in 2002. He teaches music at Swallow Hill Music School, an organization that provides community music lessons for students of all ages. He is currently a member of The Grown A$$ Man Band.

On “Vitality,” Skellenger is joined by Adam Bartczak on trombone and conch shell; Dave Miller on drums, ghatam, and tabla; Matt Reid on trumpet, cornet, flugelhorn and effects; Andy Skellenger on tabla, cajon and udu, and Glenn Taylor on pedal steel guitar.

“Vitality” by Matt Skellenger Group

Although countless albums have themes determined by their titles, “Vitality” seems to fit this recording quite well. There is a determined liveliness to this album that regardless of style, it comes through.

Another way to describe the sound and approach of Skellenger and his group is “muscular.” The term fits not just because they are male, but because the phrasing is taut, the feel is strong, the notes are hit with a hard effectiveness that keeps the work focused and engaging. It never gets so “artful” that it meanders.

“Showtime” is a fun song with serious roots in other genres. The opening notes are a jolting stomp that sound more like rock ‘n’ roll than jazz, and that’s great. A haunting and heavy groove develops that is accented by horns and any number of the eclectic instruments that the sextet employs. The song goes through a few different motifs, but the basic line of bass plus horn never goes away completely. A particularly nice touch is to hear the bass play at what seems to be its absolute lowest depths, but notice that it is still nimble enough to move with the rest of the soundscape. A song that shouldn’t be missed.

“13 Past 11” is another stomp of a tune. These bass-heavy tunes manage to highlight Skellenger’s instrument without overwhelming the soundscape with it. There is a lot that goes on here: a rock feel, a bluesy undertone during a guitar solo, thundering and cracking of drums. The guitar work pairs nicely with the bass. The song bursts with sound. The trade-off between guitar showcase to horn solo is a superb touch, too.

Skellenger’s work is indeed innovative. It is perfect for jazz fans who want something different without the music becoming so arty that it is absurd. For all their artistic sensibilities, the songs on “Vitality” are clear, to the point and make for interesting listening.

 

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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