With six albums to his credit, drummer/composer Matt Slocum has established the one thing all musicians desire: a singular sound. Surprisingly, that sound isn’t based on Slocum’s drumming, which is often intricate and jewel-like, but on his compositions. Slocum’s last album, Black Elk’s Dream, shared the voice heard on With Love and Sadness: a thoughtful, meditative, at times truly American sound. With Love and Sadness brings a new element, the modern American mind, to bear on Slocum’s music.
Conceived during a trip to the Maine wilderness, the album (composed as a suite) reflects the recent, racially induced, justice-pursuing marches in U.S. cities and considers whether the American experiment is perhaps a failure. In his liner notes, Slocum writes, “Most of the piece follows a sonic trajectory moving away from optimism but clinging to a kind of blind hope and beauty (real or imagined) in our collective potential for change.”
Joined by pianist Taylor Eigsti, bassist Larry Grenadier, and saxophonist Walter Smith III, Slocum unfurls With Love and Sadness quietly. The album opens with “Prelude.” Lilting, reflective, carefully upbeat, it sets an expanse of possibility. “First Light” pulses gently, Slocum’s dancing drums and Grenadier’s firm hand elevating the group into a kind of foursquare jaunt, lithe rhythms propelling elastic solos. Shimmering cymbal and resonant drums open “An Evolving Alliance,” which feels airy and sun-filled, Eigsti’s marvelous electric piano shifting tones over Slocum’s flowing beats. Electric piano returns on “End of the Season,” Slocum swooshing brushes below a nocturnal image. “Precipice” darts like fireflies; Grenadier’s lone bass charts “An Abandoned Illusion”; “America Revisited” is a lament—a peaceful reconciliation seems nigh.
Though the album hints at strife, it never arrives. In its unfurling a kind of rugged optimism appears, a chance for change. If Slocum believes, why can’t we?
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Matt Slocum: No Place Like Home