Matt Holman: The Tenth Muse

, composer


Trumpeter and composer Matt Holman releases a recording of his large scale composition The Tenth Muse, written for his ensemble (trumpet, vibraphone, piano, woodwinds) of the same name. Holman seemlessly weaves together improvisational and through-composed elements in this chamber jazz work, looking to the romantic poems of Greek poet Sappho in translations by Anne Carson as a source of inspiration and direct material. 


# Audio Title/Composer(s) Time
Total Time 66:38
01fragment 104b
fragment 104b
02fragment 147
fragment 147
03fragment 24a,c,d
fragment 24a,c,d
04fragment 120
fragment 120
05fragment 36
fragment 36
06fragment 29a
fragment 29a
07fragment 67a
fragment 67a
08fragment 168b
fragment 168b
09fragment 4
fragment 4
10fragment 34
fragment 34
11fragment 38
fragment 38
12fragment 32
fragment 32
13fragment 18
fragment 18
14fragment 26
fragment 26
15fragment 63
fragment 63
16fragment 88a,b
fragment 88a,b

In the ancient love poetry of the Greek lyrist Sappho, trumpet player/composer Matt Holman has found a trove of writings whose emotions and sentiments feel as timely and passionate today as they did when they were written, more than 2,500 years ago. On his new album, The Tenth Muse, Holman bridges the ancient with the modern through 16 ethereal compositions inspired by Sappho’s writings (as translated by Anne Carson).

Holman’s pieces take the fragmentary nature of Sappho’s poetry as it has come down to us as a guide for balancing structure and improvisation, clarity and mystery. Holman’s stark but enticing music is brought to life by a gifted quartet well versed in exploring heady concepts with impassioned vigor and airy sensitivity: Holman, saxophonist, clarinetist and flutist Sam Sadigursky, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and pianist Bobby Avey. Holman initially discovered Sappho’s poetry through his wife, who introduced him to the Greek poetess during the early days of their courtship, the intoxicating period when every aspect of taste and personality is a new discovery. The words that survived from antiquity seemed to reflect his own feelings across a gulf-spanning millennia, while the significant portions that had been lost over time added a sense of entrancing uncertainty. “I was astounded at the beauty of these fragments,” he recalls. “What exists today is so minimal that the spaces between the words prompt the brain to fill in words and phrases, almost like erasure poetry. Looking at Sappho’s work and finding these beautiful poems, I almost ache on some of them wanting to know what those words were that we’ll never know. For me that was really powerful.”It also resonated with Holman’s instincts as a composer/improviser, whose own muse subsists on the relationship between the written and the spaces left open for spontaneous invention.

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To further distance the compositions from his own instincts, Holman devised different systems of cryptograms for each piece – pitches and rhythms associated with specific letters or words (the best known example being J.S. Bach’s coding of his own name into compositions using notes associated with its four letters). “You have a certain language and certain licks that are characteristically you, which is a good thing, but when you’re trying to create something new you want to start fresh,”Holman explains. “I wanted to have another element outside of my own tendencies. You have to search really hard to find it, almost like it’s the composer’s secret, but I think it adds more depth.”The music for The Tenth Muse (the title comes from Plato’s adulatory name for the poetess) was written during a residency at the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts in Wyoming in August 2013. He spent the month working in a refurbished schoolhouse dating from the early 20th century on a scenic 30,000-acre ranch offering outdoor activities and teeming with wildlife. “I had an incredible piano and nature right outside my door,” Holman describes. “Deer would walk by all the time. There was time and there was a vastness to being in Wyoming that allowed a real focus of purpose and connection to nature, a quality that is present in Sappho’s work. All of these poems come from an individual voice, so I strove to capture in the music this sense of solitude. I wanted the music to sound intimate, as if it came from a single individual even if there are moments where it’s multidimensional.”The Tenth Muse premiered at Dave Douglas’ FONT (Festival of New Trumpet Music) in September 2013. The music is remarkable for its intimacy and fluidity, sliding effortlessly between the composed and the improvised with grace and elegance, though not without a full-blooded urgency. The unusual instrumentation provides an expansive palette, which Holman seizes on in a variety of ways. His trumpet and Sadigursky’s woodwinds are supple and soaring, tethered by the resonant power of Avey’s piano and softened by the gauzy luminescence of Dingman’s vibes. “I sought to evoke the full range of themes in these fragments,” Holman says. “Some are passionate and devotional, related to love, and others reflect on the awe-inspiring aspects of nature or the power of dreams. Over the course of two millenia, the human condition has remained fundamentally the same. We are still beholden to our desires, still marvel at a vast sky, still suffer over love both in its anticipation and in its loss. In this day and age, we are inundated with images and reminders of what divides us from each other. Sappho’s poetry draws for us the connection between the ancient and the modern, reminding us that even something as simple as a fragment can speak to the depths of our shared humanity.

Trumpet/Compositions: Matt Holman
Woodwinds: Sam Sadigursky
Piano: Bobby Avey
Vibraphone: Chris Dingman
Ryan Streber: engineer
Dave Darlington: mix/mastering
Madeline Sturm: album design

Matt Holman

Hailed by the New York Times as a “conscientious” and “perceptive young trumpeter,” and by the great Fred Hersch as “a creative and thoughtful improviser with a world-class sound,” trumpeter Matt Holman has distinguished himself as a composer, conductor, bandleader and top-tier soloist in many of the leading jazz ensembles of our time. Along with his adventurous chamber-jazz recordings, Holman has performed and/or recorded with Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society, the John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble, Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass, Bang on a Can’s Asphalt Orchestra, the Joel Harrison Large Ensemble, the JC Sanford Orchestra, New York Voices, Kenneth Salters Haven, the Anna Webber Quartet, Matt Ulery’s Loom, Andrew Rathbun and more. Holman has also composed and arranged works for Stefon Harris, Jane Monheit, Marvin Stamm and university ensembles worldwide.

Holman’s 2013 debut When Flooded (Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records), an ambitious and evocative project with his five-piece Diversion Ensemble, was awarded four stars by Down Beat. The album’s “richly orchestrated tapestries of sound and beautifully developed melodic ideas,” noted Hot House, draw “inspiration from a large gamut of musical sources that stretch far beyond jazz.” Not for nothing does the trumpeter cite Wayne Shorter, Shostakovich and Sigur Rós as key influences. His 2017 follow-up, The Tenth Muse (New Focus Recordings), finds contemporary relevance in the ancient Greek love poetry of Sappho. The album features Holman in an inspired quartet with reedist Sam Sadigursky, vibraphonist Chris Dingman and pianist Bobby Avey. Holman has earned numerous awards including the International Trumpet Guild’s Jazz Improvisation Competition, the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition, and the BMI Foundation’s 13th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Improvisation Competition, the Carmine Caruso International Jazz Trumpet Solo Competition, and the BMI Foundation’s 13th annual Charlie Parker Jazz Composition Prize/Manny Albam Commission. An emerging scholar, he received the Institute of Jazz Studies’ Morroe Berger-Benny Carter Jazz Research Fellowship in 2016 to research the work of composer/reedist Jimmy Giuffre. Holman served as Artistic Director of New York Youth Symphony Jazz for six seasons and currently teaches as adjunct faculty at Manhattan School of Music and Hunter College.



Jazz Trail

New York-based trumpeter and composer Matt Holman has been upping the ante in the creative jazz universe through several valuable collaborations with Fred Hersch, John Hollenbeck, Kurt Elling, Andrew Rathbun, and Darcy James Argue.

With sufficient artistic ambition to considering different styles, Holman inspired himself on the work of the ancient Greek poet Sappho to give life to his sophomore album. The Tenth Muse has 16 fragments, running between one and eight minutes, and features talented musicians and leaders in their own right, such as the vibraphonist Chris Dingman, pianist Bobby Avey, and clarinetist/flutist Sam Sadigursky.

“Fragment 104b” feels like a fugue, launching articulated melodic statements hinged by Avey’s offbeat accompaniment. Here’s a pianist who treats harmony with devotion. The zenith is achieved when a sparkling collective improvisation ignites a controlled-yet-stimulating fire.

In “Fragment 147”, Holman bridges classical intonations with lumps of jazz improvisation. In complete accord, the quartet sets off for consistent interactions, allowing us to indulge in Holman-Sadigursky’s parallel phrasing, Dingman’s elegant melodies, and Avey’s attuned piano movements. By the end, after the bandleader’s improvisation, Avey creates a darker mood, getting well-timed responses from the two-horn frontline.

Perhaps the most intriguing composition is “Fragment 29a” due to its exploratory inclinations. We find ourselves in a scenario where the pianist smothers the sound of a repeatedly hit key and the horns draw pronounced rhythmic-melodic ideas. Off the hook, Dingman instinctively injects harmonic texture together with meticulous rhythmic figures.

More accessible are “Fragment 120”, which flows with artistic balladry, and “Fragment 4”, mounted with vigilant languor and sleek volatility.

There are four compositions translated into solo performances, one for each member of the quartet.

More than any artistic embellishments from Greece, I’ve spotted glimpses of Kenny Wheeler and John Taylor’s literate music, which efficiently mingled with Holman’s own vision and sound, are beneficial and stimulating.

The Tenth Muse spawns an emergent trumpet star who boasts elevated compositional skills, musical maturity, and individual spontaneity.

- Jazz Trail, 2.22.2017


Jazz Quad

It begins to seem like a trend. For the second time this year I meet with the album where the impetus for the creation of music served as literary texts, which date back to antiquity. In January, it was the album of Dave Soldier The Eighth Hour of Amduat, based on ancient Egyptian texts, and now trumpet player from New York, Matt Holman album The Tenth Muse invites everyone in ancient Greece. "Tenth Muse" was written by the so-called poet Sappho from Lesvos philosopher Plato. The lyrics of Sappho are preserved only in fragments (about 170 passages and one poem entirely), and it is considered an outstanding example of poetry. Its main theme is love, and in the socio-cultural realities of his time, without distinction of sex. Holman acquainted with the poetry of Sappho's wife, and the musician almost immediately fell under the spell of these ancient poems.

Matt is one of the most brilliant young jazz trumpeters and composers of his generation. He has played with many famous colleagues, including, for example Freda Hersha and John Hollenbeck, has gathered an impressive collection of awards at prestigious competitions of performers and composers. Inspired by the works of Sappho, Holman has selected 16 pieces of Sappho and wrote a great program in which each fragment is dedicated to its own musical theme. He first showed it in September 2013 at the Festival of New Music for Trumpet (FONT), which holds one of the jazz world leaders in this class of instruments David Douglas. On April 7, 2017 The Tenth Muse will be released on the label New Focus Recordings.

The album was recorded by a quartet of musicians. It would seem that is a standard format for jazz, but Holman’s selection of his band is very unconventional. He did not need any drums or bass. The second horn players he invited are clarinetist and flutist Sam Sadigursky and pianist Bobby Avey and vibraphonist Chris Dingman. Highly refined sound palette! Improvisational components are present in the program, but mostly musicians perform pre-painted music. There are many very bright moments. I, for example, liked the fragment 147 c — masterful solos of Holman — and the radiating joy in fragment 168b (the names of the individual parts of the program was the adoption in literary designation surviving fragments of Sappho poetry. By the way, they are given in the booklet in the original language and in English translation). Each of the participants received a quartet and a solo part. If you try to somehow stylistically define the work of Matt Holman, then to me it seemed closer to contemporary classical music, but thinking modern new jazz can not be so unusual reduces the interest in this highly original work.

- Jazz Quad (translated from Russian), Leonid Auskern, 3.14.2017


Irish Times

The title of rising New York trumpeter Matt Holman’s second release is a reference to Sappho, the ancient Greek poet whose love poems are known only through the tantalising fragments that have survived to the modern era.

In tribute, Holman, an accomplished composer and arranger, has written a series of 12 fragmentary compositions (plus four group improvisations), leaving his unusually textured ensemble with vibraphonist Chris Dingman, pianist Bobby Avey and reeds player Sam Sadigursky to fill in the gaps with improvisation.

It’s a refined chamber sound from the thoughtful end of the teeming Brooklyn scene, a very democratic, four-cornered conversation among like-minded peers, capped by a performance of Wheeler-esque tenderness and sincerity from the leader. - Cormac Larkin, Irish Times, 4.4.2017


All About Jazz

New York City-based trumpeter and composer Matt Holman cut his teeth performing and recording with distinguished musicians such as Fred Hersch, John Hollenbeck, and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society before displaying his personal aesthetic of atmospheric chamber jazz with his debut album When Flooded in 2013. More recently, Holman found inspiration scouring the annals of history, extracting celebrated relics potent and stimulating enough to constitute the groundwork of his sophomore follow-up—2,500- year-old-plus relics to be precise.

"What kind of ancient artifacts are we taking about here?" you may ask. "Fossils? Art? Coins? That one floppy disk that always seems to elude disposal?"

Interestingly enough, the answer lies in the realm of ancient Greek literature—specifically, the surviving fragments of renowned lyrist Sappho's poetry. Although the passage of time has abraded most of her work (only one poem exists in its entirety), the evocative language remaining in Sappho's disjointed musings on the human psyche seems immortal. Galvanized by the elusive eloquence of her fragmented love poetry, Holman collected 16 chamber jazz pieces, each a musical rendering of a Sappho fragment, to form The Tenth Muse (a title given to Sappho by Plato).

In a coalescence of the ancient and modern, Holman recruited a cunning and perceptive group consisting of multi-instrumentalist Sam Sadigursky, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and pianist Bobby Avey to bring his compositions to life. The music mirrors the fragmentary nature of the poetry (all fragments are printed in the CD booklet as translated by Anne Carson) while simultaneously exploiting its incompleteness as an offering of compositional and interpretational freedom. Whereas readers and scholars inevitably attempt to fill-in-the- blanks through word association and guesswork, Holman is in the unique position to fabricate an evolving sonic aura around these words that can spur unforeseen explanations from the listener's perspective.

However, bypassing all these admittedly pseudo-intellectual abstractions reveals one simple fact: this music is beautiful. "Fragment 104b" ("of all stars the most beautiful") portrays the text's mystical undertones with a minimalist piano-vibes duet prior to mingling horns navigating a meandering course to a full-bodied exultation. "Fragment 36" ("I long and seek after") is ravishing, expanding upon sweeping textures that stabilize an equilibrium between tension and resolution. It seems as though Holman has pinpointed a sweet spot that evenly partitions the academic and emotive sides of jazz; as complex as some of these compositions are, the palette of emotion they emit successfully overshadows any super technical idiosyncrasies that would confuse the average listener.

A clever addition to this already-engrossing album is Holman's decision to disperse four tracks of pure improvisation between composed pieces—one for each player/instrument. Along with preserving the album's dichotomy between improvisation and structure, these short, pensive performances provide the listener with the musician's raw, impulsive reactions to their given fragment.

Perhaps the most literal musical translation of this fragmental poetry is realized on "Fragment 29a." Anne Carson's translation uncovers an abstract, yet intriguing phrase: "deep sound" (quite jazzy for c. 620-570 B.C., huh?). Holman illustrates this expression through a shape-shifting sonic landscape propelled by sporadic piano jabs that are softened with Dingman's understated vibraphone playing. A weary melody then gains vigor as it advances, climaxing in a moment of utter clarity as Holman and Sadigursky's horns link.

Truth be told, these examples barely scratch the surface; the emotional and musical breadth of The Tenth Muse is immense and will leave one wallowing in a state of euphoric rapture. Reading these enduring fragments while immersed in Holman's ethereal compositions makes for a truly special experience that seamlessly connects the past with the present, reiterating the fact that human nature, at its foundation, is largely unchanging. — Matthew Aquiline, 4.7.2017, All About Jazz



Find a link between the verses of the Greek poet Sappho and the Modern Jazz music, throw a virtual bridge can cross over 2500 years of history by translating the lyrics suggestions of ancient Greece in a music able to go in search of the perfect balance between improvisation and passion, mystery and emotion. Quoting Plato, with "The Tenth Muse", the trumpeter and composer Matt York Holman (Fred Hersch, Bang on a Can Asphalt Orchestra, Matt Ulery) magically manages to bring the love of time to the present day in a path consisting of sixteen bits , rich ethereal visions of seductive emotions, inspired by as many "fragments" poetic expertly translated by Anne Carson and delivered to the booklet that embellishes the CD. Matt Holman invites us to fill in the blanks with the missing words using our imagination to interpret the meaning and reread relying on our experiences and so give a new meaning to these verses incomplete. The medium is music, played by a quartet of talented musicians such as vibraphonist Chris Dingman, pianist Bobby Avey and multi-instrumentalist Sam Sadigursky, able in turn to fill the open spaces left by the writing of the trumpet player, played on creating cryptograms, frequencies and rhythms associated with letters and words to be coded from time to time. What may seem like an extremely cerebral exercise instead translates into a fluid music, never in conflict between the expressive urgency of improvisation and the composition of the more thoughtful, heartfelt and, as multidimensional as in other one-dimensional moments. The power of dreams, nature, the devotional aspect of love are the themes on which Matt Holman rolls out its palette of colors reminding us that even in something as simple as a piece we can find the immense strength that only the movements of the soul they can generate. -- Roberto Binda, argonauta, 3.20.17



Music and poetry are often intertwined; whether it's through the turn of the lyrical phrase or the message of the verse, poetry has a rhythm that speaks to many people. Trumpeter and composer Matt Holman was introduced to the Greek poet Sappho (630-550 B.C) by his wife in the early of their courtship and the poet's words fell on receptive ears. Historians believe that the poems were written to be sung with accompaniment of the lyre.

Holman, who has worked or is now working with large ensembles led by Darcy James Argue, John Hollenbeck Fred Hersch’s Leaves of Grass, Asphalt Orchestra, guitarist Joel Harrison, and the JC Sanford Orchestra (among others), also is a member of the SKETCHES quintet and is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music and Hunter College.

The poetry of Sappho is the inspiration for "The Tenth Muse" (New Focus Recordings), the trumpeter's second album. Working with Sam Sadigursky (soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto flute), Chris Dingman (vibraphone), and Bobby Avey (piano), Holman uses fragments of poems (many of them no more than a short sentence) to create 16 pieces that are minimalistic yet melodic, thoughtful, meditative, reflective, emotionally powerful, and sometimes verging on melancholy.

It's best to let the music do the talking. The clarity of the sound, the beauty of the individual instruments, how the composer and arranger mixes and matches the voices, how the poetic fragments become musical stories, the moments when the music transports the listener (literally) out of time, all this and more makes "The Tenth Muse" very special. There are moments when the Sadigursky's clarinet or soprano sax echoes or trails behind the trumpet, when the rolling piano chords build to a thundering climax, when Dingman's vibraphone peels like a church bell or the trumpet sustains a note that resonate long after the album ends.

Holman leaves space in the program for each member of the ensemble to have an unaccompanied solo. Those interludes are the shortest tracks in the 67-minute suite but do not feel extraneous (are titled as "Fragments"). And, while there is a classical chamber music feel to the proceedings (especially in Bobby Avey's piano work), the music defies categorization. The composer wisely leaves it up to each listener to find his or her way.

If you are a person who loves to get lost in music, who likes to be challenged and rewarded by a composer and his ensemble, then seek out "The Tenth Muse." The sounds, these abstract notes that coalesce into emotions, have great power and stand out from the standard fare. Matt Holman has given us a wonderful present; take notice.

-- Step Tempest, 4.14.2017


The Best Jazz on Bandcamp: April 2017

Trumpeter Matt Holman treats silence like sculpting clay. He gives shape to what isn’t there, and instills it with a presence that can fill the room. When he enfolds his songs with rich harmonic washes, the display of textures results in varying shades of color. Holman’s excellent 2013 release When Flooded offered up plenty of that effect with its mix of reeds, cello, guitar, and percussion. On his newest, Holman brings in an entirely different ensemble. Sam Sadigursky takes over the armory of wind instruments from Mike McGinnis, and the duo of vibraphonist Chris Dingman and pianist Bobby Avey blur the lines between melodic development and rhythmic support. The changes all shake out with highly defined lyricism, where the poetry of motion sets the melody in play, rather than simply creating an environment for them to thrive. It’s why the passages of dissonance on “Fragment 26” and the unfolding serenity of “Fragment 36” and the wild emotional swings of “Fragment 38” all seem to have sprouted from the same family of seeds. That Holman’s inspiration for The Tenth Muse is the Greek lyrist Sappho certainly had an influence in how the pieces came together, but the conversational rapport between the members of the quartet indicates a guiding hand rooted in the creativity of the present than the echoes of the past. -- Dave Sumner, Bandcamp Daily, 4.2017



For his sophomore album The Tenth Muse, New York City-based trumpeter Matt Holman drew for inspiration from the Ancient Greek poetry of Sappho (as translated by Anne Carson). Interestingly, he was introduced to the poet’s work by his wife when they were courting and found himself immediately enthralled by the power and beauty of Sappho’s writing. Being so fragmentary (a representative example: “I long and seek after”), the material’s minimal character inspired Holman by providing him with ample flexibility as a composer and instrumentalist, whereas its allusive musings on amour and other matters spoke to him despite having been written more than 2,500 years ago; the emotional terrain traversed by humans is, after all, much the same today as it was then. (The album title, by the way, derives from the name Plato coined for the poetess.)

Yet as important as Sappho’s texts are to the project, they’re primarily important for having catalyzed the album’s sixteen pieces into being; put simply, after acknowledging appreciatively the poet’s role in the project, the listener’s focus largely shifts to the performances themselves, which finds the leader in the august company of saxophonist, clarinetist, and flutist Sam Sadigursky, vibraphonist Chris Dingman, and pianist Bobby Avey. The four play with a remarkable degree of agility as their performances blur the lines between jazz and classical in these chamber jazz settings; they’re as comfortable hewing carefully to notated lines as they are soloing exuberantly in free jazz style. In fact, their playing merges composed and improvised passages so seamlessly, one mightn’t realize that four of the sixteen pieces are fully improvised without being informed otherwise.

The range of emotions and themes in Sappho’s texts is mirrored in the breadth of the quartet’s playing. More than anything else, what impresses is the fluidity of their interactions, the elegant manner by which they move between solo expressions, unison statements, and counterpoint. Much of that’s attributable to Holman’s writing, of course, yet the four play with such natural ease that one less hears formally composed structures and more seemingly spontaneous interplay between four gifted players. They alternate between solo and supporting roles with consummate ease, and at any given moment the material might feature a duo, trio, or quartet in action (or single musician, as indicated by the solo trumpet and piano spotlights that introduce the gorgeous balladry of “Fragment 36” or the short, soprano sax-only “Fragment 18”).

If, on paper, Holman and Sadigursky suggest a front-line to Avey and Dingman, the arrangements never conform to such a straightforward split. Even better, the distinct timbres of each instrument are exploited to their fullest degree, allowing for clear separation between them: when the instruments play in unison, it’s still possible to hear the shimmer of the vibes, supple breeziness of the woodwinds, or muted attack of the trumpet from within the collective sound. Sadigursky’s contributions to the recording are especially noteworthy for enabling multiple woodwinds to become elements within the total fabric.

Ear-catching indeed is the exploratory “Fragment 29a” for the way it juxtaposes an insistently struck piano key with a brooding, declamatory theme first articulated by vibes and subsequently by trumpet and saxophone. “Fragment 4,” by comparison, exemplifies the kind of melodic and harmonic sophistication one associates with jazz writing (and playing) at its finest. Each setting distinguishes itself from the others on this consistently rewarding collection in sometimes subtle and occasionally emphatic ways. How fortunate we are that Holman looked to the poet for inspiration: these are remarkable performances that effortlessly collapse multiple boundaries. - Ron Schepper, textura, 4.19.2017

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