Matthew Stevens, guitarist for Esperanza Spalding and Christian Scott, steps out on his own | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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Matthew Stevens, guitarist for Esperanza Spalding and Christian Scott, steps out on his own

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Toronto-born Matthew Stevens represents a new breed of jazz guitarist. He’s an improviser with a deep investment in harmonic exploration, but his music dispenses with most of the hallmarks of jazz, at least stylistically. He’s made his name working with two artists who’ve forsaken jazz orthodoxy in favor of pop-leaning hybrids—trumpeter Christian Scott and paradigm-shifting bassist and singer Esperanza Spalding—and Stevens’s own music follows suit. Preverbal (Ropeadope) is a slick, groove-heavy trio album that embraces the rhythmic prerogatives of pop and funk. Over dense, tricky parts laid down by bassist Vicente Archer (a frequent sideman for Robert Glasper) and drummer Eric Doob—plus layers of looped electronic beats, samples, and synthesizer textures—the guitarist creates shimmering lines and chords that twitch, reverberate, and ooze. Rather than unleashing extended single-­note runs, Stevens conceives of improvisational gambits for the trio as a whole, progressing from one statement to the next as a unified band. There are moments of repose, such as when the final section of “Cocoon” suddenly pulls back to a whisper, allowing Stevens to trace lines that float meditatively. Similarly, the closing track, “Our Reunion,” opens with airy guest vocals from Spalding before an imperturbable hard-rock groove kicks in.   v

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