Matt McMahon

Pianist Matt McMahon talks to Jazz Australia on the eve of launching his first solo album.

The Voyage of Mary and William.

Released on Paths and Streams Records

JK: So why the solo album at this point in your career?

MM: Most of my playing is solo playing  – when I’m at home I’m doing it all the time. I have recorded solo pieces in the past but never a whole album. It’s a side of my playing that many people perhaps have not heard before and I thought it may be of interest. It can be quite a solitary activity and I love playing with other people. But it is fantastic to just pursue one’s own ideas’s with no other consideration – like being a tourist in your own mind – stopping when you feel like it, moving on at your own pace, exploring exactly what you want.   

JK: You often work in a very collaborative style, in comparison, how did you find the process for composing and recording a solo album?

 MM: This music was very spontaneous. I was recording some music for a trio project and had some extra time in the studio so recorded a number of piano improvisations. I try to have no agenda and to just let the music unfold as it wants to. So on the one hand there was no preparation – on the other hand everything I have undertaken in my musical life is somehow present in these pieces one way or another. It can be an intense process to improvise solo but also very enjoyable. I’m not trying for a particular result – just to keep concentrating as the music develops.

JK: Would you like to tell us about the inspiration behind the album?

MM: There was no particular inspiration for the album. I think improvisation itself is the inspiration – just to improvise and try to be focused  on doing it. On listening back to the music I can hear many of the things that have influenced my playing from many sources – a flash of Hermeto Pascoal, Focus, Bach inventions, all the great jazz pianists, Joni Mitchell,  Vaughan Williams, Ravel etc.  I am also aware of the traces of the Irish music I heard when I was growing –  under the influence of my older brother Michael with whom I played a lot. This led me to reflect upon the way improvised moments contain all of the history that lead up to them. And I thought of my ancestors making the journey form Ireland in 1847 and how their decisions have affected my musical choices – and how we are all the products of so many decisions made in the past. 

 JK: What were the highlights of researching for this project?

 MM: Researching for this project has really been my whole musical history to date and allowing this history to manifest in whatever way feels natural. I’ve done thousands of performances and about eighty albums of original music and they’ve all left their mark on my conception. I’ve been involved with a diverse range of Australian artists-  Joseph Tawadros, Vince Jones, Phil Slater, Simon Barker, Katie Noonan, Peter Sculthorpe, Tim Freedman, Dale Barlow, Bandaluzzia, Daryl Pratt, Steve Hunter, Guy Strazz, Jackie Orszaczky, Tina Harrod . I’ve also had the opportunity to play or record with Christian McBride, Sharon Shannon, Joe Lovano, Mike Stern, Aaron Golberg, Greg Osby. All of these wonderful musicians have challenged my ideas and furthered my growth as a musician to make me the improviser I am. So I feel like when I improvise all of these musicians are there with me. Not to mention the musician’s I have spent time studying  too – Herbie Hancock, Mozart, The Beatles etc. 

JK: What projects do you have coming up in the future?

MM: I’m looking forward to presenting new music for my “Paths and Streams” project later in the year; also some music from my trio – for a new album;  an album of folk songs with my brother, who sadly passed away in the middle of our recording project; new music with Vince Jones, Joe Tawadros, Baecastuff, Steve Hunter, Guy Strazz; , Simon Barker, Phil Slater Carl Dewhurst, Bae Il Dong, Riley Lee and I recorded some music which will be out very soon under the name – “Trace Sphere”. 

The CD launch is taking place at the Sound Lounge on Friday 6th March

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