About a year ago I was at a gig when my attention was drawn to a young pianist. I soon learned that his name was Matt Steele and I wrote it down in a notebook; knowing that he would be one to watch. As the months rolled by I would occasionally bump into him in the CJC Jazz Club or see him playing piano at the late night CJC Jam Sessions.
I had a strong feeling even then that he would develop into a really good pianist and my instincts were right. At that time he was probably a first year Jazz Studies student, but now in the midpoint of his second year, we are seeing a mature and confident performer emerge. He has the talent, taste and commitment to go where ever he wants.
While having chops is an obvious advantage there are other subtler factors which impress discerning listeners. Matt can demonstrate a strong two-handed swinging-approach when called for, but it is his lightness of touch and his awareness of space that impresses most. He has grasped the most important lesson of all and that is what to leave out.
Matt attends the University of Auckland Jazz Studies course and the tuition that he receives from Kevin Field is obviously yielding dividends.
On the 23rd of May Matt appeared as part of the Lewis Eady Emerging Talent series, which has a strong classical focus and doesn’t generally include a slot for jazz pianists. They could not have chosen better than Matt as his playing was superb and the repertoire was perfectly suited to the occasion.
The program featured several works by the Polish Jazz trumpeter Tomasz Stanko and his wonder-kind pianist Marcin Wasilewski. I was extremely pleased to see these masterpieces of modern Jazz included. There is a real space for performing this material and there is not nearly enough of it. Matt played some of his own compositions and they fitted in beside the Stanko, Bjork, Wasilewski, Kuhn and Carmichael perfectly.
It was also an added bonus that a lovely Steinway piano was available for the performance.
The clip below is from the Lewis Eady performance. The number was composed by Bjork and played by Marcin Wasilewski on his album titled ‘Trio” (ECM). Matt’s interpretation here is impressive. I must also praise the sensitive drumming and great bass lines. we should be under no illusion; pieces like this are difficult to execute. Unlike a fast burner everything is revealed. There were brave choices in the program but it worked extremely well.
I had not seen Eamon and Jared before but I will watch for them in future. This trio belongs together as their awareness of what is required of each other is highly developed. I urge everyone to check them out. Chelsea Prastiti joined them for one number and that was also great.
Alain Koetsier a top class drummer saw the clip and emailed me the following: “great stuff all round and very subtle drumming”.