Matt Haimovitz & Uccello
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Matt Haimovitz & Uccello

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE

Montréal, Quebec, Canada | INDIE
Band Classical Jazz


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One of the most original and compelling jazz albums in recent memory was created by a classical cellist who often plays in rock clubs. As Matt Haimovitz's world has stretched from the elegant Carnegie Hall to the punky CBGB club, it's altogether fitting that his new album is titled Meeting of the Spirits. The title, a classic by guitarist John McLaughlin from his Mahavishnu Orchestra days, is as good a description as any of Haimovitz's polyvalent approach to music.

The album re-imagines jazz milestones - by Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, Billy Strayhorn and Charles Mingus, among others - with a band comprised of other cellists (called Uccello), some of whom he teaches at McGill's Schulich School of Music. With guest appearances by McLaughlin, poll-winning drummer Matt Wilson and keyboardist Jan Jarczyck, the album combines tight arrangements with inspired improvisation. Lo and behold, instead of being an academic exercise, as these sorts of interdisciplinary projects threaten to be, this music flows and swings.

Although the Israeli-born Haimovitz was only 13 when he made his concert debut, as soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, he says it wasn't until he attended Princeton that he became exposed to jazz and rock and the idea of improvisation. It was there that he met a professor, Steve Mackie, an electric guitarist with a rock background, who turned him on to jamming.

"At that point I hadn't even played a note from the 20th century. It was all Bach to the 19th century. It was a time when I was beginning to question everything, including the inspiration for creativity. How can we compete with some of the great masterpieces of the past, how can we come up with something new and still challenge and develop new forms? I began to take an interest in improvisation, but I had no idea where the inspiration would come from. So I basically spent the whole year jamming with Steve, trying to find this sound world between electric guitar and cello."

Eventually they developed a piece for cello and electric guitar based on Romanian folk tunes and played it in Paris, where half the hall liked it and half hated it. "It was sort of my Rite of Spring moment. I was so ashamed and Steve said, 'Are you kidding? This is the best reaction you could possibly get. When you provoke something, that's great.' In my world I wasn't used to that."

And yet, he adds, Bach was "the greatest improviser of his time. There was Mozart, Beethoven, all the way through to Bartok - the idea of improvisation was part of the tradition of classical music. Then composers stopped trusting performers and started telling them exactly what to do. Jazz and some world music picked up the mantle of improvisation."

In that first year at university, he discovered Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix. "I was voracious and wanted to get into that. I knew I could never be a jazz musician because my DNA was too classical. But I think I have a certain passion and curiosity and desire to go back to the idea that a classical performer can still jam. In fact we have more chops than anyone else, in terms of knowing our instruments and having a wide knowledge of different styles."

Haimovitz's epiphany, embracing various eras and styles, turned into a lifelong passion when, after a decade as an exclusive recording artist for Deutsche Grammophon, he formed his own record company, Oxingale, with his wife Luna Pearl Woolf, a composer and producer.

Haimovitz, whose cherubic face and curly hair belies his rapid-fire precise talk, recorded the Bach cello suites but when he wanted to take it on the road, he says, the "classical music establishment" maintained there was no audience for solo cello performance. In this case, necessity was the mother of invention: Haimovitz, who turns 40 next month, decided to take Bach into clubs normally reserved for rock.

"I knew that we had to rebuild a new audience, and I had come to such a personal interpretation of the cello suites that I wanted people to strip away all the prejudices they have of it, from listening to Casals or Rostropovich. I wanted people to experience those pieces anew. To celebrate the release of this recording I thought we should at least go into clubs, where I could play all six pieces over three hours and people could be comfortable with a drink and take this music in.

"It was the first time that I saw my generation in the audience. To me it was a revelation to see classical music aficionados become excited about (getting) out of their routine, and to see rock, jazz (and) folk followers, who would never come to hear me in a symphony hall, give it a chance. The electricity of that first performance got me wondering whether there was a need in classical music to change the context, so it's less predictable. It really goes back to the roots of chamber music, which is to experience music in smaller spaces where you can get close to the performer and feel the music and be knocked out by how powerful it is. It's not about easy listening and having a good nap. It's about being engaged."

In 2003, he followed up with a 50-state tour celebrating living American composers, featuring his arrangement of Hendrix's Star Spangled Banner. Since then, he's seen a shift whereby clubs like the Poisson Rouge in New York City attract crowds for the classical music.

On Dec. 3 he will perform with Uccello at the Apple computer store in Manhattan, then two days later offer a solo recital at the Rubin Museum of 300 years of Italian music for solo cello (which will comprise the next Oxingale record release).

Ten years ago, he says, "the classical music club might've thought I was nuts, ruining my career," by playing clubs. "Now the young generation are starting out there and fine-tuning their chops, and it's not seen as something scary. There are many closet jazzers and rockers in orchestras, so I've gotten tremendous support. It's amazing how fast things have changed.

"Some of my best audiences are people who are passionate about indie-rock or jazz. I just felt comfortable jamming with someone like DJ Olive, who comes from the electronica world, because of his ears, which is exactly what I look for when I play a Beethoven sonata. To me, whatever genre you're listening to, even if you don't know anything about it, if you're listening like that they know when something is working right."

- Montreal Gazette

It's tricky to pigeonhole cellist Matt Haimovitz. He plays Bach's solo cello suites in beer halls. He performs concertos with major symphony orchestras. And he fronts an all-cello outfit called Uccello, which has been known to saw through a Led Zeppelin tune from time to time.

Haimovitz is at it again. He and his cello co-conspirators are releasing a new CD today, and this time the road they're traveling is jazz.

Meeting of the Spirits, on the Oxingale label, features nine "jazz milestones" as the CD cover calls them, in a variety of clever arrangements by Pittsburgh-born composer David Sanford.

There's an introspective version of the Modern Jazz Quartet tune "Blues in A minor" for cello duo. Four cellists combine for a haunting take on "Blood Count," Billy Strayhorn's final composition for Duke Ellington's orchestra. And all eight cellists pile on for "Half Nelson" by Miles Davis.

It's fitting that there's a little Gershwin on the disc. He was probably the consummate mixologist of classical and jazz. This version, below, of "Liza," (from 1929's Show Girl) is dressed up in a playful pizzicato a la Stephane Grappelli and Django Reinhardt.

The new disc also features a guest appearance by guitarist John McLaughlin, who solos on his own "Open Country Joy," a song from back in the Mahavishnu Orchestra days.

A cello group is not a new phenomenon. But this agile band of players (many of them study under Haimovitz at McGill University), led by such a free spirit, makes almost everything sound fresh.

by Tom Huizenga, NPR - NPR

Link to ALL press reviews can be found at this link - Oxingale

...Of all these young players, Haimovitz is the most radical: an expressive maximalist, he calls forth a dazzling spectrum of sounds from the depths of his instrument. Those who like the solo disk can move on to "Vinyl Cello" (also on Oxingale), an album that features such enticements as a "cello band" transcription of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun" and a powerfully funk-driven "Scherzo Grosso" by the young African-American composer David Sanford. - The New Yorker

Matt Haimovitz treats classical music as rock n roll. He's made a name for himself performing the Bach cello suites in small clubs where people can really see him coax the beautiful music out of his instrument. Now he's turned expanding his repertoire to include the Bartok-influenced stew of his current CD, "Goulash!"

But the real joy is seeing him perform. He blew into Monterey Live Thursday night and filled the place with Bachophiles who never visited the downtown club. He treated them to some fine solo selections -- a Bach suite (No. 2 in D minor if you are keeping score at home), a Gyorgy Ligeti sonata and a real workout Zoltan Kodalys Cello Sonata.

Then he brought out Uccello, three of his cello students from Montreals McGill University. The quartet played Bela Bartoks Romanian Folk Dances. But the glorious cap to the evening was Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir." The cellos "singing" the soaring vocal lines and burning through the guitar solos (it's only fair since Jimmy Page often took a violin bow to his guitar) of the Middle Eastern melody. Underneath, the young cellists slap the bodies of their instruments and clack bows against strings below the bridge to lay down the driving rhythms. As one Bachophile said, "Led Zeppelin never sounded so good."

Haimovitz is a wonderful soloist, as South Bay fans know from his shows at the Espresso Garden the last couple of years. But the quartet segment of the show was a treat -- and it almost didn't happen. the now-familiar visa problems temporarily snagged the fresh-faced Swedish and Canadian members of Uccello in L.A. Worse, the airline lost the bass cello. Haimovitz performed solo in Southern California

A standing ovation and handshakes from the appreciative crowd, and the cello warriors drove off into the night for tonight's show in Eugene, Ore. "Yeah, we'll drive four hours tonight and find somewhere to stay," Haimovitz said. "That's rock 'n' roll."

Watch for Haimovitz when returns for a series of Bay Area shows next month, including a show one at Stanford on Feb. 26.

by Mark Whittington , San Jose, The Mercury News - San Jose Mercury News

Wait, can it be? Is this the Apocalyptica of jazz? Israeli born cellist Matt Haimovitz, already known for his unique and adventurous musical creations, has assembled the 8-piece cello ensemble, Uccello, with the intention of playing as part of a “cello big band” and covering Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and George Gershwin just to name a few. Well, alright then...quite ambitious to say the least. The cameo appearance by John McLaughlin, among others, isn't even necessary to get me to pay attention, but it sure adds to the hype. A hype that, mind you, is not only met but far exceeded. The sheer scope of the imaginativeness alone makes this album amazing, the insane musicianship just kind of puts it over the top. I can honestly say I have not heard anything like this (with the exception perhaps of Gordon Grdina's East Van Strings Band). This album can be cinematic, jazzy, experimental, classical, and beautiful showcasing if nothing else the outfit's wide range. The only criticism I would have is that the album leaves you with a desire to hear original compositions with this line-up, but alas there are none. Until then just listen to their version of “Haitian Fight Song,” it will all make sense. - KAMP Radio


Meeting of the Spirits, 2010
1. Open Country Joy
2. Half Nelson
3. W.R.U.
4. Blues in A Minor
5. Meeting of the Spirits
6. Blood Count
7. Triptych
8. Liza
9. Hatian Fight Song

Figment, 2009

Odd Couple, 2009

J. S. Bach Goldberg Variations 2008

VinylCello – CD & limited edition 12" LP 2007

After Reading Shakespeare 2007

David Sanford & the Pittsburgh Collective: Live at the Knitting Factory 2007

Aprés Moi, le Déluge 2006

Mozart the Mason 2006

Goullash! 2005
Celebrating Bartk's fascination with the folk music of Transylvania, Hungary, Romania and Turkey, Haimovitz delves into his own Romanian/Middle Eastern ancestry to create a sonic tapestry that bridges genres, geographic distances and cultures. Working with legendary guitarist John McLaughlin and cutting-edge turntablist DJ Olive, up-and-coming talents such as Montreal's early Mediterranean/contemporary music ensemble, Constantinople, and Haimovitz's newly founded all-cello band, UCCELLO, Haimovitz explores the different facets of his musicianship as soloist, improviser, ensemble leader and collaborator.

Epilogue 2004

Please Welcome... Matt Haimovitz
Oxingale Records OX2005

Oxingale Records OX2004

Hyperstring Trilogy
Oxingale Records OX2003

Haydn Mozart
Released 2003
Transart Live TR121

The Rose Album
Oxingale Records OX2002

Lemons Descending
Released 2001
Oxingale Records OX2001

J.S. Bach: 6 Suites for Cello Solo
Oxingale Records OX 2000

Oxingale Records

Portes Ouvertes: The 20th Century Cello Volume 3
Released 1999
Deutsche Grammophon 457 584-2

The 20th Century Cello Volume 2
Released 1997
Deutsche Grammophon 453 417-2

The 20th Century Cello
Released 1995
Deutsche Grammophon 445 834-2

Trios with Rob Wasserman
GRP Records MGD-4021

Suites and Sonatas for Solo Cello
Released 1991
Deutsche Grammophon

Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, Boccherini: Cello Concertos
Released 1990
Deutsche Grammophon

Saint-Saens, Lalo: Cello Concertos, Bruch Kol Nidrei



MATT HAIMOVITZ is acclaimed for both his tremendous artistry and as a musical visionary – pushing the boundaries of classical music performance, championing new music and initiating groundbreaking collaborations. From his debut at the age of 13, as soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic and his first recording with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for Deutsche Grammophon, Haimovitz has since gone on to perform on the world’s most esteemed stages. Haimovitz made his Carnegie Hall debut when he substituted for his teacher, the legendary Leonard Rose, in Schubert’s String Quintet in C, alongside Isaac Stern, Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman and Mstislav Rostropovich. In 2000, Haimovitz made waves with his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, for which, to great acclaim, Haimovitz took Bach’s beloved cello suites out of the concert hall and into clubs across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Haimovitz’s 50-state Anthem tour in 2003 celebrated living American composers, and featured his arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” Haimovitz was the first classical artist to play at New York’s infamous CBGB club, in a performance filmed by ABC News “Nightline UpClose.” Haimovitz’s award-winning recording career encompasses more than two dozen albums on Deutsche Grammophon and his own independent label, founded with composer/producer Luna Pearl Woolf, Oxingale Records. Matt Haimovitz’s all-cello ensemble,

UCCELLO, features the next generation of cellists from the Schulich School of Music at McGill University, where Haimovitz is Professor of Cello. Uccello has performed on Boston’s
Celebrity Series, New York’s Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and Jazz at Lincoln Center, as well as clubs such as Arlington’s Iota, Seattle’s Tractor Tavern, and Eugene’s Sam Bond’s Garage. Uccello has joined Haimovitz on two Oxingale recordings, Goulash! and VinylCello; the first, a classical best seller, appeared on the Billboard charts.