Matt Mayhall is a drummer and composer based in Los Angeles. Like many instrumentalists on the L.A. scene, Matt has embraced a full range of musical pursuits. He’s toured with The Both - a group with Aimee Mann and Ted Leo - since the release of their album in 2014. He’s performed with Liz Phair, John Doe of X, Dar Williams, and Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles. Yet he’s also played with an enviable list of jazz musicians, players like keyboardists Larry Goldings and Adam Benjamin, bassists Tim Lefebvre and Eric Revis, guitarist Anthony Wilson, and saxophonists Vinny Golia and Chris Speed.
For a number of years he was in Spain, the syncretic alt-country/slowcore group led by Josh Haden, son of legendary jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Matt has the distinction of being the drummer on Charlie Haden’s final recorded performance, Spain’s song “You And I.” He can also be seen in the IFC television series Documentary Now! as a member of the fictitious soft-rock band The Blue Jean Committee, produced and led by Saturday Night Live veterans Fred Armisen and Bill Hader.
Over the past decade, Matt has employed this all-of-the-above strategy to great effect, and with that confirmation it’s time for him to finally release an album of his own.
The album is called Tropes, and features some of Matt’s musical kindred spirits: guitarist Jeff Parker (Tortoise, Brian Blade Fellowship), and bassist Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Allen Toussaint, Meshell Ndegeocello), with appearances by keyboardist Jeff Babko (Frank Ocean, Mark Guiliana’s Beat Music), and tenor saxophonist Chris Speed (Human Feel, Claudia Quintet).
Matt wrote all of the music at the piano, which he admits is not an instrument he is entirely comfortable with. This was by design. “I didn’t have an impulse to write anything flashy, heavily rhythmic, or 'drum-centric,'” he states. "I was really just taking direction and drawing inspiration from chord sequences and melodies I had come up with." But this is not to say drums are downplayed elsewhere; in fact, Matt has discovered innovative textures and beats, providing clarifying rhythmic context to his compositions.
The result is a set of moody and spacious instrumental pieces in which improvisational stretching is kept to a minimum or woven into the compositional forms, with Parker’s guitar as the primary melodic and chordal instrument. While many of the songs employ the repetition of a set of chord changes, these vignettes offer much more than just an initial premise to begin soloing.
Tropes stands out as an important album for its place in time and geography, as Los Angeles is now being recognized as a viable alternative instrumental music scene. Innovation need not be contrived, and with Matt Mayhall’s new album we have a sonically compelling glimpse into the power of self-introspection and honest curiosity as a means of moving forward artistically. Here’s betting Tropes will be among the albums which represent and define our current and evolving musical climate.
Gary Fukushima, LA WEEKLY