Virtuosic, shape-shifting guitarist and composer Matthew Stevens recently released his second album as a bandleader, ‘Preverbal.’ ‘Preverbal’ is a visceral statement, a kinetic exploration of harmony and rhythm driven by Stevens’ masterful playing and singular melding of elements of experimental, jazz and rock. The album blooms and disintegrates over 8 original songs that are immersive and muscular, dark and joyous.
‘Preverbal’ was recorded with Stevens’ core band of Eric Doob on drums and Vicente Archer on bass, plus synthesizer and deft touches of sound manipulation and studio craft. It also features a soaring guest vocal appearance from Esperanza Spalding on album closer “Our Reunion.”
Album opener “Picture Window” was recently unveiled via a glowing write-up from critic Nate Chinen at NPR/WBGO. He says the music “advances the ideals of modern jazz even when, sonically speaking, it gestures in other directions.” He continues, “Stevens is not the sort of improviser to show you all of his cards, or even reveal his intentions: he prefers an air of alluring intrigue, down to the way the track ends, like a set of blinds snapping shut.”
Stevens’ sophomore album as bandleader comes on the heels of a big 2016: He played an integral role in the recording and sound of Esperanza Spalding’s ‘Emily’s D+Evolution’ – one of the best albums of the year – and toured the globe as part of her power trio. He’s also collaborated extensively with Christian Scott, acting as his musical director, performing on all of his recordings, and composing music. ‘Preverbal’ is the fully realized vision of this in-demand collaborator and band mate, the culmination of a decade spent lending an important voice to his many projects and as a bandleader.
‘Preverbal’ finds Stevens deeply exploring the electric guitar while his solo debut, 2015’s lauded ‘Woodwork,’ was mainly an exploration of acoustic textures. At the onset of making this new album, Stevens introduced and rehearsed the songs with his band completely by ear without any notated music. The approach brought him full circle, to his days rehearsing with his garage band as a teenager, and led to a synchronized ensemble with ample headroom to explore and improvise during the recording.