Jazz Guest Artist: The Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio

Ed Kornhauser (piano), Mackenzie Leighton (bass), and Matt Smith (drums), of the Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio grooving at the McKinney Theatre at Saddleback College (Joseph Fleming/Lariat)

Ed Kornhauser (piano), Mackenzie Leighton (bass), and Matt Smith (drums), of the Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio grooving at the McKinney Theatre at Saddleback College (Joseph Fleming/Lariat)

Jazz Studies at Saddleback College presented the Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio in the McKinney Theatre the evening of September 11.

From San Diego, the trio was assembled in 2013 and they’ve made two albums already. The most current release “RETROgrade” came out September of 2016 and had some of its songs featured during the performance.

“We’re really lucky here at Saddleback to have a great music faculty, all the way across the board,” said Joey Sellers, director of jazz studies at Saddleback College and former teacher of Matt Smith. “Whether its vocal, instrumental, piano, composition, commercial music, everything. It’s an integral part of what makes the college special.”

Sellers explained that Jazz Studies usually only introduces two guest artists a semester but Smith, who just started his graduate studies at CalArts, was in town along with the other two San Diego natives, so Sellers was able to have them perform last minute. When asked how to describe the trio’s sound, Sellers construed it as, “jazz based but pop influenced.”

The animated trio played about half a dozen songs, creating harmonies and combinations of deep bass notes, refreshing piano compositions and drum play that kept the peoples’ toes tapping to the beat. The non-vocal communications such as eye contact and head nods between the trio members cued certain sections throughout each song. Most songs provided a pattern of fluctuating uproars to calming, tranquil sounds, letting each member shine with their own type of solo.

Deriving inspiration from musicians such as Kurt Rosenwinkel, Ari Hoenig and Tigran Hamasyan, Matt Smith has had a passion for music since the age of 10 when he first learned to play the drums.

“We all wrote songs,” Smith said. “What’s cool about the group is that we’re all composers; we all as a group bring everything together.”

The rule of the group is that whoever composes the song gets to choose the song title. Having songs composed by someone different adds a unique feel to each song, keeping the audience intrigued.

Pianist Ed Kornhauser has a familiar background when it comes to playing the keys.

My moms a really good classical pianist, her mom has won some awards as a barbershop quartet arranger and my great grandmother was a church pianist and pianist of silent movie halls back in the day,” Kornhauser said. “With piano, I went straight into jazz. I started teaching myself right about the start of high school. I always liked creating stuff, and just goofing around in terms of forming my creative side. I tried other things but when I found jazz and piano and improvising, this is it, this is what I want to do.”

Among the group, Matt Smith is the only former student of Joey Sellers, but Ed Kornhauser and Mackenzie Leighton have known each other since high school.

Bass player Mackenzie Leighton teaches at Palomar College and Cal State San Marcos and suggests for beginner students interested in music, “Do the work on your own, make sure all your stuff is together and good things will follow.”

Looking forward, the next musical guest artist will be composer and saxophonist Danny Janklow from Los Angeles, who will be at the Jazz Lab ensemble, a class at Saddleback for the younger music majors, Monday, October 2.

For more information on the Matt Smith Neu Jazz Trio, make sure to visit their Facebook page, @TheMattSmithNeuJazzTrio