The Sound of Paint Sizzling: Matt Jorgensen’s ‘Tattooed by Passion’

Abstract art meets its musical match in a local composer’s inspired new album.

By Eric Scigliano October 28, 2010

Tattooed by Passion, the painting (minus a few colors) and the tune.
Eric Scigliano

Painters from Vermeer to Picasso have celebrated music-making. Abstract expressionism is jazz played with a brush; Mondrian made boogie woogie out of squares and stripes. But musical homages to painting are much rarer. Pictures at an Exhibition, of course. Dave Brubeck’s Miro Reflections and all those paintings on his album covers. Donny McLean’s little paean to Van Gogh. And…?

Seattle drummer/composer Matt Jorgensen helps even the exchange with his new album Tattooed by Passion, which debuted Tuesday at the Triple Door as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival, and will tour next year. “Music inspired by the paintings of Dale Chisman,” reads the subtitle, and familial affection suffuses the project: The late Chisman, who made his mark in New York and then returned to his native Colorado and led an abstract-painting renaissance there, was Jorgensen’s father-in-law.

But Tattooed by Passion is much more than an homage; it’s a collaboration-beyond-the-grave, uncovering surprising correspondences between sound and image. Like much of Chisman’s work, the title painting juxtaposes giddy swirling lines and solid geometric shapes. An enigmatic red object—an upside-down neckless viola?—floats in an indigo rectangle on a lilac field beside a pastel swirl of what might be dancing DNA or treble clefs gone mad. Jorgensen and combo match this: the rhythm section builds the geometric structure while Mark Taylor’s sax twines it with arpeggios. On other pieces the instruments trade places. In “The Armory"(see below), played against photos from Chisman’s studio, Dave Captein’s bass probes and pushes against an insistent Philip Glass-like plinking that seems to express all the tedium and anxiety of trying to make art when inspiration doesn’t strike. Then Corey Christiansen breaks in with keening, bluesy guitar licks—the feeling’s back!

All this and strings, something that usually seems to me leaden baggage (sorry, Kronos) in jazz and rock. Half the Tattooed suite includes an able quartet that actually swings and even, on “Quiet Silence,” matches Capstein and Christiansen in a slashing showdown. The result: a textural richness surpassing even Chisum’s paintings. On “Primal Scrip” Christiansen, an amazingly versatile guitarist from Salt Lake City, broke into King Crimson-style power chords:

And I realized what all this sight-and-sound harkened back to: psychedelic light shows, back before laser and video effects drove visual artistry off the concert stage. And I wondered: Couldn’t more performers meld images with their music?

On the way out, an answer came. The Triple Door’s Musicqaurium was hosting the last of its “Speakeasy” movie Tuesdays. The very funky Vunt Foom quintet and a couple rappers accompanied a 1952 French classic, Jacques Becker’s Casque d’Or. It worked.

Tattooed by Passion, from Origin Records.

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