Nola’s Ark Reviews
INSIDE STORY mag: Andrew Ford
Monique diMattina in New Orleans
12 June 2013 @ 5:52 pm
Andrew Ford is a fan. But of whom, exactly?
Bold and inventive: jazz singer, composer and pianist Monique diMattina.
I DON’T get out as much as I might. I live in the country with a toddler and even getting to my own concerts is sometimes tricky. In particular, Melbourne is a long way away. These are among my excuses for not really knowing who Monique diMattina was or what she actually did.
My experience of diMattina was based entirely on her album Sun Signs , which appeared in late 2011. Having never heard of her, I assumed this was her first CD. And I really liked it. Sun Signs was, for the most part, an album of thoughtful, gentle, delicate solo piano music, composed and played by diMattina. It was on the JazzHead label and clearly some of it was jazz, but the music was anything but obvious. If I tell you that on the first track, “Sun,” the pianist edges closer and closer to the “Nimrod” theme from Elgar’s Enigma Variations before finally coming right out and quoting it, you will begin to see what I mean. Elgar and jazz piano are not natural bedfellows.
So I played the CD on the radio, I gave it as a present to friends, and finally I lent my copy to someone whose identity now eludes me (if you’re reading this and you are that person, you know what to do). The point is, I was a fan. But of what, exactly? And of whom?
When, a few weeks ago, a new album by diMattina appeared, I leapt upon it. Into the CD player it went and, blow me down, she was singing. Quite well. With a band. In New Orleans. How wonderful, I thought – still clinging to my belief that diMattina was some wistful wood nymph of refined jazz sensibility – she’s gone and released a breakout album!
But the truth – and please refer to paragraph one again before you condemn me – is that Sun Signs was not diMattina’s first album. It was not even her third. It was her seventh. And it, rather than this delightful stomp through New Orleans jazz, was more like her breakout moment. She does not generally muck about with Elgar. In fact she has long been a singer, and a songwriter to boot, as listeners to Melbourne’s community radio station 3RRR know well.
Her regular slot on 3RRR is called “Shaken Not Rehearsed”  and during it listeners will phone in with ideas for songs. DiMattina takes away the most likely idea and, within the hour, turns it into a new song, which she then performs on air. The songs are generally inspired by events, large and small, in the listeners’ own lives, and so the topics will range from complaints about work (in fact, trench digging) getting in the way of sex, to a broken love affair, to a child’s fantasy about a cat terrorising her neighbourhood. These are all real examples, respectively entitled “Dig a Hole,” “No More Coffee” and “Black Cat,” and as it happens they are all on the new album.
It’s called Nola’s Ark  (for those of you who don’t watch Treme, NOLA is New Orleans, Louisiana), and most of the songs are diMattina originals, the bulk of them products of her 3RRR slot. That’s some journey, when you think of it: from a listener’s phone call with an idea for a song, to a studio in New Orleans with some of that city’s top session musicians. In microcosm, indeed, it seems to sum up the very business of creativity. You can start with anything. No idea is too small, even the most unpromising of them can generate a spark and a spark is all you need to begin. Art is not about ideas, it is about what you do with them, how you transform them. In this case, the transformation includes the trumpet of Leroy Jones, who normally works with such luminaries as Harry Connick Jr and Dr John.
So what of diMattina? Well she’s no wood nymph! Her piano playing is bold and inventive, occasionally boisterous, showing the influence of all manner of New Orleans players. I hear, for example, touches of both Tuts Washington and Huey “Piano” Smith. Her singing voice, meanwhile, is pitched somewhere between Billie Holiday and Rickie Lee Jones, though her phrasing and a certain wryness in the delivery regularly remind me of Blossom Dearie.
But the most impressive thing about diMattina – and remember, I will always hear her work filtered through my initial exposure to Sun Signs – is her range. As I’ve commented before in Inside Story, Australia has an extraordinary oversupply of talent in jazz, particularly among piano players. Still, I can’t think of anyone else who would move quite as cheerfully between the styles of music to be found on these two CDs by Monique diMattina. •
Composer Andrew Ford presents The Music Show  at 10 am and 10 pm each Saturday on ABC Radio National.
AUSJAZZ.NET by ROGER MITCHELL
SHAKEN AND A LITTLE BIT REHEARSED
Posted on May 22, 2013 | Leave a comment
Ausjazz blog takes a look at how singer/songwriter Monique diMattina has taken some song ideas through customs, taken a flight overseas, and come home with a new album
It’s an intriguing and original way to record an album: Take an idea provided by someone else, spend 45 minutes writing lyrics and a melody, carry those ideas on a plane to New Orleans, team up with some fine musicians and lay down the tracks at Piety Street in the Bywater.
That’s how Monique diMattina made her fourth album, Nola’s Ark, on a pilgrimage to New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA to the locals) when she was 20 weeks pregnant.
The imaginative approach to song writing is not new for diMattina, who appears weekly on Tim Thorpe’s 3-RRR program Vital Bits for her Shaken Not Rehearsed segment, in which she writes and performs a song within an hour, based on listener’s requests.
The gestation of the second track on Nola’s Ark, Dig A Hole, is an example of how this creative and courageous process works.
First, there’s the challenge, issued by diMattina over the radio waves: “I’m here to write a song, every Sunday, so at 7.45 the challenge is out there. Call in and give me an idea and I’ll run off and write it.”
Then comes the idea.
A listener rings in: “I want to have my Saturday morning lovin’, but I’ve got to go out and dig trenches because of all the rain.
diMattina: “Oh, don’t you hate that.”
Listener: “I had to, yesterday.”
diMattina: “So you want your Saturday morning lovin’, you have to get out from under the doona, put on your … “
Listener: “Get the shovel out of the shed, and dig trenches down the side of the house so little rivers will escape my property.”
diMattina: “And who’re we talking to?”
The delivery: In 39 minutes, diMattina has lyrics and a melody for Dig A Hole For Love.
It starts like this:
Come on babe hug me ‘coz I’m feeling all right
It’s warm under the covers gonna take you for a ride
She says “Hold on baby what you tryin to do?
you knooow I can’t stay and get hot with you –
‘cos the water’s risin, so quit your cryin and
Pick up a shovel dig a hole for love
This is a familiar routine for diMattina at 3RRR. On her website, she explains:
“Assuming I arrive on time, listeners call in 7.45am with a song idea. I hole myself up in Studio B, pray to the song gods, align my chakras with a complex ritual involving caffeine … and more caffeine … and receive whatever chaff they throw me.
“Some time just before 9am I play the fresh-born song live to air, coughing, spluttering, covered in vernix, but usually alive.”
Another caller, Rick, rang in after a Melbourne summer downpour wanting a song about the release of rain on the dry, dry earth. He had a property in Gippsland.
“I was struggling a bit, Tim,” diMattina says on air.
“It just felt like a bit of a boring song about rain and stuff and then I remembered the feeling, when I was living in Harlem when Obama came in, and Rick said, if release had a smell that the smell of the earth after rain would be it. And that started to strike a nerve with me, so that helped me along.”
The result was the song Bring On the Rain.
diMattina does not shy away from serious topics. Her song Godzilla is a response to a request from Steven, who had been watching footage of the devastation caused by 2011’s earthquake and tsunami on Japan and its nuclear reactors. He likened the images to Godzilla stomping across Japan.
As diMattina originally sang Godzilla on Triple R, she did without her piano “in solidarity with our friends in Japan”.
At Piety Street, the line-up for Nola’s Ark was diMattina on vocals, piano, Wurlitzer and Hammond organ, Leroy Jones on trumpet, Rex Gregory on clarinet, Loren Pickford on sax, June Yamagishi on guitars, Matt Perrine on acoustic bass and sousaphone, Eric Bolivar on drum, Richard Scott on accordion and Anthony Cuccia on percussion.
The talented ensemble is used to good effect on the five hastily written and four other originals, plus standards Young at Heart (Richards/Leigh), Let’s Do Something Bad (Matt Munisteri), I’ll Be Seeing You (Sammy Fain/Irving Kahal) and Numb Fumblin’ (Fats Waller).
If it seems surprising that songs written on the run could work so well when taken into a New Orleans studio with musicians new to the composer, it’s worth taking on board diMattina’s long affection for the music from NOLA.
In her album notes, she writes that all her life she has “loved and lived off the sounds and spirits of this swamp, that cross time, swim seas, pump blood for dancing, singing, crying winging, for suffering, truth, for soothing, sneaky grooves that move and woo”.
It would be interesting to know whether the five people who rang in with their ideas to Triple R are aware that they inspired a song that would be recorded overseas. And diMattina’s approach to composing raises the possibility of jazz fans turning up at gigs with a riff or two they want turned into a tune to be played on the night.
If instrumental “jazz karaoke” does take off, you heard it here first.
EASTSIDE RADIO SYDNEY 89.7FM
Eastside Radio’s Album of the Week is Nola’s Ark by Monique diMattina
Pianist and singer/songwriter Moniqe diMattina spends much of her time in between Melbourne and New York. One of Australia’s more decorated Jazz exports, career highs include performing solo recitals for Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan and Vaclav Havel, and representing Australia at the IAJE Toronto. May 2013 sees Monique return with her new album Nola’s Ark which she recorded in the famed Piety studios in New Orleans, and the results are set to see her further enhance her already shining reputation.
Teaming up with a smoking hot set of musicians that were featured on the fabulous soundtrack to HBO’s series Treme, including trumpeter Leroy Jones (Harry Connick Jnr Band) and bass/sousaphone player Matt Perrine (Dr John, Jon Cleary), Nola’s Ark is a fresh selection of original songs and a couple of revitalised standards.
The influence from the city is abundant. There’s a sexy and soulful sound to her jazz music with a good time and infectious feel throughout. From grooving percussion and brass complimented with husky whispered vocals, slower smoky jazz ballads and basement blues tinged rhythms, Monique pays homage to the city in fantastic style. A classy sound from a classy act.
Stay closely tuned to Eastside as we are giving away a copy of Nola’s Ark to a listener every-day this week!
Sun Signs Reviews
Monique diMattina’s last album Welcome Stranger..put the focus squarely on her vocal performance in a program of original alt-pop songs. While diMattina’s piano playing took a backseat on that project, it is certainly back to the fore in her latest release, Sun Signs.
diMattina has crafted a suite of pieces that are diverse in tempo, tonality and character. Throughout we are treated to diMattina’s exquisite touch and tone. This is not an album for those who seek flamboyant displays of pianistic technique. While there is never any doubt that she possesses considerable chops, the emphasis is on subtlety, grace and nuance. Each delicate phrase is perfectly placed on the rhythmic matrix. While the influences are there for all to see (Corea, Jarrett, Evans and Jamal – Debussy also raises his head, particularly on The Scales and The Twins) diMattina avoids pastiche by bringing something of her own to each performance. She has the knack of creating melodies that seem inevitable, yet turn in surprising directions. It’s clear that, whilst she is not ashamed of showing her influences, diMattina is a mature artist who has assimilated the tradition into her unique and singular identity. Sun Signs is a beautiful album. Highly recommended.
Aaron Searle -Music Forum: Journal of the Music Council of Australia, winter 2012
Welcome Stranger Reviews
Sophisticated and playful
Dave Graney, 3RRR
Sweetly wry…Livingest Place is surely the nicest and slyest ‘Melbourne-v-Sydney’ song, ever.
Doug Spencer – ABC Radio National
She sings New Orleans stompers as confidently as she sings supple, tiny lullabies; this is an album with room for both and more. I like it. It feels as though it’s about us and from the place we live.
If you like Norah Jones.. you’ll groove with a glass of red on a chaise lounge while listening to Monique diMattina. She’s laid back, funky, and can cook with the best of ’em. Even better, she’s home grown. With the ‘Welcome Stranger’ tag for the title, I reckon we’ve struck gold.
Melb. Uni ‘The Box’ 2011
From French bohemian to dedicated blues to sweet lullabies, Welcome Stranger is bound to win you over one way or another.
Tiffany Bridger – Rave Magazine – Brisbane Street Press
Welcome Stranger 4/5 – For her second album a mix of jazz, pop, blues, New Orleans funk, Monique diMattina has assembled a versatile band (bass, drums, guitar, accordion) that compliment her piano on songs that deal with love, domestic violence, courage and resilience, sung in her gentle Blossom Dearie meets Rickie Lee jones voice. Highlights include an instrumental reinvention of Paul Kelly’s Dumb Things.
Billy Pinnell – JB Magazine
Timeless piano dreams and improvisations – the thinking person’s zen escape.
The Village Voice, NYC
Beautiful, spacious, spare.
Lucky Oceans, ABC Daily Planet
Atmospheric, thoughtful. Calm notes with a sharp intelligence.
Sue Roberts, BBC Radio 4
Cherishing each note she plays and the spaces between them.
Doug Spencer, ABC The Planet
Julia Lester, ABC Classic FM Drive
Derek Guille, ABC 774 3LO
Delicate, calm, contemplative – to be played while reclining on the couch daydreaming.
Mary Downes, Herald Sun
This exquisite recording is a wonderful example of the creative spirit in the music of Monique diMattina. It is enhanced by a tone, touch and sensitivity at the keyboard which can only be found in artists of high caliber. A beautiful listening experience.
Dr Tony Gould, Dean, VCA School of Music
Reviews & Press
For the second time in two weeks, audiences have farewelled a respected member of Melbourne’s jazz community. Hot on the heels of Alison Wedding’s departure for New York, Monique diMattina gave her final performance on Sunday before relocating to the same city. Paris Cat was brimming for diMattina’s farewell gig, the venue perfectly suited to her intimate performance style. For most of the evening, the singer-pianist was joined by Andy Baylor, whose subtle guitar underlined the relaxed warmth of diMattina’s songs. It’s only in recent months that diMattina has begun singing in public. So it was a pleasant surprise to hear her clear, light voice sliding easily across each melody with a sweetly seductive feel that reminded me of Norah Jones. The songs were mostly original, borrowing from early jazz and folk styles and often pinned to an unhurried, bluesy swagger. The evening’s highlight was a bracket of solo instrumentals from diMattina’s new album, Senses. The pianist began with an extended improvisation consisting almost entirely of fast flowing ripples, creating a sense of movement that was by turns soothing and dramatic. The rushing water then subsided into a pool of quiet lyricism, almost hymnal in its beauty (Species), before segueing into a gentle waltz (Zephyr) that rocked back and forth like a shadowy lullaby. diMattina then performed two more vocal numbers with Baylor: a sashaying Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans? And a zinging, toe-tapping I’m Old Fashioned. As an encore, they were joined by singer Nichaud Fitzgibbon for some impromptu blues where diMattina dug into the keyboard with earthy fervour and Fitzgibbon would the song’s slow-burn grove into a marvellously rich, gospel infused finale.
Jessica Nicholas THE AGE Wednesday June 6, 2007
Monique diMattina’s piano… best exemplifies what it is that is so good about this album. There is always something happening, be it front and centre or off to the side…
Lee Howard, HERALD SUN, on Elwood Records release ‘The Braves’, Oct 2004
diMattina’s passion for the music is palpable. Serenely comfortable with her instrument and also with her collaborators, her comping was deft and interesting – both supportive of their ideas and suggestive of new directions. I found her playing entrancing, a style that draws you along…
Kerry Hempenstall, ‘Aus.Jazz App.Soc.’
Exquisite, unaccompanied solos… Hymn-like compositions…
Jessica Nicholas, THE AGE
Pianist Monique diMattina presented a polished repertoire of original material delivered with grace and professionalism. Monique has a strong yet gentle touch that evokes great passion. She sketches an atmosphere that quickly puts you inside the piece.
Lynette Irwin for Sounds Australian