CD review: Matt Gold – Imagined Sky 2020: Video, CD cover

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Music, like a spoken language, has dialects.

Just as jazz from the East Coast is known for its hard-driving swing, and the West for its smooth production, the environment has a direct impact on any artist’s sound. After all, Bill Frisell once said that “jazz is not so much a style as a way of thinking, a process of transforming what’s around you.”

On Imagined Sky, his debut leader date, guitarist Matt Gold effortlessly embodies his own dialect—defined by varied, spacious soundscapes, innovative improvisational flourishes, rich harmony with ample inner-voice movement and a keen focus on accessible melody. It’s all inextricably tied to his life as a music-maker in the Midwest.

After graduating in 2013 with a degree in jazz guitar from Oberlin College, Gold, a Long Island native, decided to move to Chicago. Though he easily could’ve relocated to New York, which he calls “mecca” for creative improvised music, Gold decided to stay in the Midwest, hoping it would provide more space for him to make music that felt fresh and authentic—and remain unencumbered by oppressive cost-of-living.

The move paid off. Gold said he’s still continuously surprised just how impactful Chicago’s close-knit local scene and effortless musical cross-pollination has been to fostering his multifaceted sound. In fact, many of his collaborators on Imagined Sky are part of the local experimental and indie-folk scenes that spawned artists like Wilco and Neko Case.

For its part, Imagined Sky features vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Macie Stewart—who also performs in OHMME—on the patiently melodic track “Queen Anne.” The album also features bassist Bryan Doherty and drummer Jeremy Cunningham, whose singer-songwriter and rock projects Gold contributes to as well.

“Everyone who shows up on this record is a really special person for me,” said Gold. “When I moved here, I don’t think I realistically had any idea how deep the music community was. I fell into a huge community of really beautiful musicians and collaborators.”

Echoes of Chicago’s long-standing history of blues, jazz, gospel and experimentalism also can be heard across Imagined Sky, especially in Gold’s use of lyrical, rootsy fingerpicking.

That lyricism is especially evident on one of the album’s most pared-down tracks, “Between The Four Seas,” which features Gold alone, playing a gently cascading guitar melody. Though the song is done acoustic, its fierce originality recalls something you might hear from Frisell or Pat Metheny.

“On ‘Four Seas,’ I was thinking more like an art song [and] the lyricism of my favorite fingerstyle folks—Ry Cooder, Elizabeth Cotton—with a different harmonic feeling, but the same repetition, making it feel [mantra]-like.”

Gold’s effortless fusion also is tied to his relationship with his childhood home, which he said was filled with music. Before he primarily became focused on guitar, Gold grew up playing viola in school and drums with his dad. And, though his parents weren’t professional musicians, they were music lovers, and playing records—by artists like The Beatles, drummer Ed Blackwell, Ornette Coleman and Stevie Wonder—was a mainstay activity in the house.

This early, deep listening also helped inspire elements of Imagined Sky; in particular Gold’s versatility and ability to highlight how two often-separate sound worlds—the instrumental world of classical and jazz, and the more vocal-focused styles of pop, folk and country—offer incredible potential when allowed to intermingle.

“I think all the time about instrumental music, and I think this record gets at that—like where do instruments in music sit alongside music that involves singing?” Gold said. “[I was] really trying to not self-consciously tie these things together. But I guess they both feel so connected to me and relevant to each other that to make this record, I hold these two worlds up and look at them side-by-side.”

In the end, by honoring the myriad influences—and places—that make him who he is, Gold’s voice sings with transfixing clarity on Imagined Sky. It’s as much as any artist could hope for with a debut.

“[Imagined Sky] is the notion that we all have our imaginations and our ways of looking at the world, and they’re informed by other people and by our experiences,” he said. “I feel so lucky to work with a lot of really different people here in Chicago and [have] all those experiences. My own compositional voice and the music that I’ve always loved kind of just came together.”

1.Matt Gold – Augusta Fairgrounds (4:22)
2.Matt Gold, Macie Stewart – Queen Anne (5:41)
3.Matt Gold – Crimes (6:01)
4.Matt Gold – Between the Four Seas (1:36)
5.Matt Gold – Truehearted (2:49)
6.Matt Gold – Dollarama (3:52)
7.Matt Gold – Always Starting Over (7:14)
8.Matt Gold, Sara Serpa – Petrichor (4:59)
9.Matt Gold – Bottom of the Barrel (5:19)

Matt Gold – electric and acoustic guitars, voice (5), analog synthesizer (2, 8), wurlitzer electric piano (2, 7), mellotron (5)
Bryan Doherty – electric bass
Jeremy Cunningham – drums
Macie Stewart – voice (2)
Sara Serpa – voice (8)
Dan Pierson – analog synthesizer (1, 3)
Myra Hinrichs – violin (5)
Matt Ulery – double bass (5)

Imagined Sky | Matt Gold

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