By Tanner Kent
The Free Press
Craig Matarrese has been playing the bass for 30 years.
But he’s never played like this.
On Saturday, the most mysterious persona in all of contemporary music -- the man colloquially known as Jandek -- will perform at Minnesota State University.
Matarrese and three other regional musicians have been hand-picked to join the Houston-based musician on stage. And even though the MSU philosophy instructor isn’t craven to a bit of free-form musicianship -- he does, after all, play in a jazz quartet -- his next gig will be the most challenging yet.
“I’m sort of a musical adventurer,” he said. “I feel like, as a musician, I should do anything that will force me to grow as a player.”
In the weeks leading up to the performance, Matarrese has been told little about what to expect. Everything that has been relayed to him from the notoriously reclusive performer has been indirect and vague -- except for one specification.
Jandek requested that Matarrese play a four-string, fretless bass -- a somewhat unusual choice that has forced Matarrese to begin exploring new ways of playing his instrument. To prepare for the show, Matarrese said he’s working on microtonal intonations and “psycho-acoustic paradoxes” (that is, descending and ascending notes that, when played together, trick the mind into hearing a note that is not there).
“This is why I’m so grateful,” Matarrese said. “I’ve been playing bass for 30 years and it’s not very often that I come up with an entirely new technique. It pushes me as a player and lets the musical world show itself to me in a new way.”
Since his arrival on the music scene in 1978, Jandek has adhered to a strict policy of anonymity. He has granted only two interviews, and none in more than a decade. Even though he’s released more than 60 albums through a label called Corwood Industries (to which fans must write if they want to purchase his CDs), Jandek didn’t play his first live show until 2004 in Glasgow, Scotland.
He rarely, if ever, speaks during his live performances and each is different. Some performances have found Jandek playing guitar, others playing the piano. Sometimes he performs alone, other times he requests a handful of local musicians to join.
Jandek plays only a handful of shows each year all over the world. His decision to play in Mankato is rooted in the efforts of KMSU’s Shufflefunction morning. Hosts Shelley Pierce and Tim Lind are longtime fans who have corresponded with Jandek for more than a decade.
“We’re so excited to have this happen in our own backyard and have people experience this,” Lind said.
Jandek’s music may not be for everybody. But it is for everybody who likes to be challenged by music.
His music alternates between deeply poetic, melodic folk and blues, haunting instrumentals and cacophonous mixtures of banging, wailing and electrified instruments. One album features nothing but piano work. In the early 2000s, three of his releases were nothing but spoken-word songs with no accompaniment. Some releases are sparse and quiet; others are loud, electric and crazed.
His live performances are equally unstructured and unpredictable.
“I can’t really imagine what the music will be,” Matarrese said. “It’s radically open. That might be liberating, or that might be paralyzing.”