Matthew Sheens: It’s a Jazz Thing

New York-based Adelaide jazz pianist Matthew Sheens is back in his hometown to launch his new album, Untranslatable.

New York-based Adelaide jazz pianist Matthew Sheens is back in his hometown to launch his new album, Untranslatable. The award-winning musician and composer, who will compete for the Freedman Jazz Fellowship at the Sydney Opera House later this month, as well as record a new album while in Sydney, will launch his second album, Untranslatable, at the Promethean on Sunday, August 10. The Elder School of Music graduate moved to the US in 2009 after becoming the first Australian to win a DownBeat Magazine Student Award and received a scholarship to study at Boston’s New England Conservatory before moving to New York in 2011. Sheens released his debut album, Every Eight Seconds, in 2012 and has performed across the globe at festivals such as the Montreux International Jazz Festival. His more contemporary jazz influenced new album, which as the Untranslatable title suggests, is inspired by words that are impossible to translate into other languages. “I wrote a few of the pieces a year or so ago and I had trouble figuring out what to call them,” Sheens explains, “so I went on the internet and found some words that couldn’t be translated. Using that idea, I created other pieces that were inspired by words that can’t be translated into other languages. The whole theme just became a metaphor about how I perceive music, which is that it’s untranslatable. I used that definition as a basis.” Sheens, who won the 2013 APRA/AMCOS Professional Development Award, will be making use of his time in Sydney to record a new album – in a single day. “I might do a few bits and pieces in New York but the bulk of it will be completed in one day. It will be a long session, a 12-hour session. So that will be a big challenge. I’ve got to finish writing the music for it first.” Will Sheens have everything finalised before he records, or will he leave space for improvisation? “The last two albums for a ‘jazz musician’ have been pretty, I don’t want to use the word controlled, but a lot of it has been pretty orchestrated, especially the last one, which was with a string quintet. This one will probably be kind of similar in its ratio between improvisation and written material but the element of improvisation is always pretty central.” Sheens recently got his American Green Card and says New York is home. “I won the Green Card lottery, so that’s another reason why I’m back here because of my interview [for the Green Card]. I usually come back to Adelaide once a year, and there are less and less familiar faces every time I come back because every one leaves for a little while. This time around, there’s barely anyone I know, so New York feels more like home than Adelaide in a sense.” In New York, Sheens performs with a variety of musicians across a spectrum of genres from classical to pop. “I have been playing quite a lot with bassist John Patitucci [two-time Grammy Award winner], who’s one of the most famous bassplayers in the world. So that’s been a highlight and very much a learning experience. I’ve been doing quite a few different projects with other people, a lot of friends, writing music for them, and travelling around Europe, as well as writing, arranging and composing projects. “Most of the influences on this second album [Untranslatable] have been away from the mainstream jazz genre and I’ve been playing and writing for a pop musician in New York. I’ve been doing a number of classical gigs, a bit of work with a piano trio (a classical piano trio with violin and cello) and some salsa gigs.” Matthew Sheens Untranslatable (ABC Music) The Promethean Sunday, August 10 (7.30pm) $20/$15  

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