Mads Mathias: I’m All Ears

Laid-back Danish singer and saxophonist appears with jazz combo and string quartet on arrangements by Guy Barker

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Born in 1981 in Silkeborg, Denmark– a town noted in recent art history for its association with the late painter Asger Jorn, whose museum is housed there – the singer, songwriter and tenor saxophonist Mads Mathias was voted Best New Danish Artist of The Year when his debut album Free Falling was released in 2012.

A handsome face, topped off with a full head of hair, looks out at us from the cover of I’m All Ears, Mathias’s second release and featuring all-original material. Add to that a winning, easy-on-the-ear yet compelling command of both vocals and the tenor saxophone and you might be forgiven for thinking “Some guys have all the luck”. But Mads Mathias has paid some serious dues in his life. Having played the tenor saxophone from age 11, at 17 a serious car accident led to his losing his right-hand index finger and part of two other fingers.

The saxophone had to be put aside as Mathias concentrated for several years on building a career as a singer. But then he came back to the saxophone and – as can be heard on this beautifully crafted album, arranged by Peter Jensen and Guy Barker – came to play it with both renewed and increased facility: sample the title track or the delicious, Mel Tormé-touched The Forbidden Word. His cool, breathy and mellow sound and laid-back phrasing offer perfect complement to his perfectly pitched vocals, as engaging melodically as they are from the point of rhythm and dynamics.

And then there is the question of lyric content. I don’t know if it has anything to do with his experiencing – and overcoming – the sort of adversity which recalls the saga of Django Reinhardt, but there is a lightly delivered yet telling maturity to Mathias’s contemporary approach to matters of love and longing, the challenges of personal growth and identity in an often perplexing world.

Enhanced by musicianship of high quality – check the punchy ensemble drive of Labour Of Love, the tasty work of top harmonica man Matthias Heise on If I Were A Dancer, or the beautiful writing for strings on the poised and reflective Angel In Disguise – every track here repays serious attention, even as the music delivers much finger-clicking joy.

Mathias has often fronted The Danish Radio Big Band and has appeared at London’s Royal Albert Hall and Royal Festival Hall. On the evidence of I’m All Ears he might just be tempted to consider calling his next album “The Only Way Is Up”. Whatever, I very much look forward to it.

Discography
Forget Me Not; Labour Of Love; Angel In Disguise; I’m All Ears; Marigold; The Forbidden Word; Henpecked Man; If I Were A Dancer; Little Then Did I Know (36.09)
Mathias (v, ts); Peter Jensen (tb, arr); Guy Barker (arr) with (collective personnel): Peter Rosendal (p, kyb); Anders Gustafsson, Mårten Lundgren (t); Michael Blicher (ts); Jan Harbeck (bar); Matthias Heise (h); Rune Tonsgård, Charlotte Rafn (vn); Jens Balslev (vla); Therese Åstrand Radev (clo); Morten Ankarfeldt (b); Esben Laud von Lillienskjold, James Maddren (d); Bernardo Aguiar (pc). Copenhagen, October 2017, June & August 2018 & Lejre 2019-20.
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