Jazz isn’t meant to be precise or carefully thought out, which seems like an obvious statement. When you hear something like Matty Stecks & Persiflage’s new album, Night Cravings, you immediately start to appreciate the truer essences of jazz, the wild abandon, the sheer inspiration and intuition, that feeling like you can play anything you want to and then you do just that.
Matty Stecks is a composer, saxophone player and flautist who also manages to be one of the mainstays of the Brooklyn Jazz scene. He spent the last 11 years making his name through constantly performing, so you can see how the pandemic upset his upward trajectory in the world of contemporary jazz. At the end of that 11-year period of growth, Matty Stecks spent some time at Avatar Studio just before it closed down. He gathered his friends under the aegis of Persiflage (meaning “light and slightly contemptuous mockery or banter”)–trombonist Curtis Hasselbring, guitarist Todd Neufeld, bassist Dave Ambrosio and drummer Satoshi Takeishi. Night Cravings is the result of these sessions.
What makes this album so intriguing and original? It’s that “anything goes” attitude. Matty Stecks is out front for all of these original tracks, but there’s just an unkempt and undisciplined spirit at work here, an excellent and fun spirit that inspires this quartet to go wherever the the music’s hopping. It can be free jazz, but it’s fun and hilarious instead of chaotic–this is humor in absolute and wordless form. Just when you slip into the groove, elements of folk, psychedelic rock and old-fashioned be-bop sneak in and have you wondering where you made a wrong turn and wound up in this specific neighborhood.
This isn’t nearly as challenging as most albums that claim to be free or experimental jazz. This is five musicians who all know what they’re doing, and they’re choosing to go with their imaginations. Once a muse is corralled by a single member, the other four immediately synchronize their watches and then move as one. While Matty Stecks leads consistently, the magic is in the improvisation. But there’s also a sense that Stecks plans this all in advance and is enormously pleased when it comes out even more adventurous than he expected. That makes Night Cravings, which is impeccably recorded, a hopeful reminder that we’ll be back in the clubs one day, listening to this kind of magic occur in real time.