Mister OTT – Matthew Ottignon and the homage to Ethiopian jazz love. (music review)

Matthew Ottignon is a cool as cool gets Sydney based jazz musician, born in NZ and world traveled enough to soak up sound culture everywhere he goes so he can include as much as possible in his musical performances.  I was lucky enough to attend the launch of Mister OTT’s first two singles at the gorgeous venue 505 in Surry Hills a couple of weeks ago, and I have had the sublime pleasure of listening to the launch tracks since. Despite his creative refusal of terms like “world music” and “jazz” you can hear the heart and soul in the cultures he allows to permeate his work.  Already a seasoned player in the Australian jazz scene and having performed with a whose who of great performers and bands (including a member of the triple Aria winning Monsieur Camembert) Mister OTT is the amalgam of the traveled influences where variety and novelty are given free rein and Matthew can spread his cultural wings into the sounds that he knows so well and loves so much.


Whenever you hear Matthew Ottignon play, you know you’re going to get the very best in sound experience, so it was not a surprise to hear the pulsing beauty of rich fat sound that filled the room on the launch of his singles. What was fascinating was the jazzy subject matter, very much taken after the sounds of Ethiopia Matt was exposed to on a recent tour. To properly understand Mister OTT, one needs to feed off the bands influences, the strongest of which is the great Getatchew Mekurya

and the amazing Mulatu Astatke.

Both sounds are influenced by their geographical proximity to the middle east, its Christian background and the fascinating detail that Ethiopia is the only African country never to have been officially colonized.  This gives Ethiopia a unique place in the familiar world of African jazz so famous for free-form improv and syncopation. Ethio groove is a style formulated by Mulatu after spending time as a jazz musician on the London scene and then latino bands in New York. The style is made to make the body move, even if you’re sitting in a chair.  With the right stuff already flowing through his veins, it became inevitable that Matt would want to absorb Ethio groove and become appropriator for a new kind of sound to the Sydney scene. The result is a funk infused syncopated stroll through the flavors and musical lust of pumping and heady sax heavy chunks of groovy sound. If Mattaraja wants to prepare you for whats to come, Take it Higher is the full blown fun assault, both tracks rolling their saxy tongues around their prevailing language while cool keys slide around a virtual melody.

Obviously tickled pink by being able to perform with his brother, Matt enrolled Eden Ottignon on bass to heat things up as you can hear, particularly on Mattaraja (SUCH a cute title).  Ellen Kirkwood brings a sexy shade of pink to the sausage fest, her trumpet filling out nicely around Matt’s sax, the sound needing her sultry female touch. Ben Panucci rounded out the strings with his contempo jazz nuances while the clean beat was maintained by Dan Kennedy’s steady drums. Daniel Pliner’s keys carried a little Cuban accent on Take it Higher while sticking with the funk on Mattaraja.  Guests included Steve Marin’s percussion, Peter Farrar’s melody sax and dancer Eden Dessalegn.

The powerhouse performance on the night of the launch included the professional relaxed atmosphere only the talented with experience can project. Matt is comfortable on a Sydney stage, we all know that, but he’s also comfortable with this new group and the sounds he’s created and the heritage he’s representing. Music like this needs to project its sense of ownership so that we can chill into the vibe, and Matt achieves this with his precise choice of talent, his passion for the music he is playing and the beauty of his compositions. Music like this is all about pleasure and ease of experience and freedom of the body, but none of that is possible if the musicianship isn’t at its finest. The taste we in the audience had at the launch of Mister OTT tells us the disc of singles will be a treasured item for years to come. Hopefully there will be more to hear and more to buy soon.

Check out Matt’s website here.