“Grandma” is the debut release of Oregon Music Hall of Fame College Scholarship recipient Joseph Matveyenko and his project Hazansky. The 4 track EP promises to be a small landmark in indie music making, and what’s all the more remarkable is that probably nobody sees this coming in the current climate of bombastic club music. This has all the characteristics of signature stuff: part sophisticated jazz, part retro-soul, part contemporary singer-songwriter R&B. The EP is precise and clean, played by fantastic musicians who would be equally at home in a jazzy late night club band or a rigorous studio group. There are hip guitar phrases, slick-cat chord changes, complex arrangements, soul singing, horn interludes, and tasteful piano swells behind the throbbing bass lines. “Grandma” contains legitimate organic sounding songs.
Produced in Los Angeles by Riley Geare (of Unknown Mortal Orchestra), the recording explores self-discovery and the importance of family, and was inspired by Joseph moving in with his grandma for college. “Grandma” veers from cool balladry to deep-dish soul to lithesome rhythms without breaking a sweat or seeming to overreach.
And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the arrangements are every bit as likeable as the melodies on all songs. Joseph Matveyenko vocal is flat-out idiosyncratic, the kind of singing that will baffle fans in the American Idol era. It’s a little sugary, a little ethereal, and a little nonchalant at the same time. And it’s a quality tone.
“Found a new home – Away from everything I’ve known – A new opportunity – To explore a city unknown to me – (Ooh) Next year I’ll be gone – Back home in California (California) – In Los Angeles – In paradise (paradise) – Living with my grandma,” are the grounded lines which open the album, on the title track, “Grandma”. The nonthreatening groove, the pastel harmonies, and the chill soulfulness – the wondrous sound of a time when the world seemed less frenetic and ominous all-around.
“Dreaming” is every bit as brooding as its title suggests. It’s a classic example of soaring, yet understated song craft as you’re likely to run across anywhere this year. The horn and harmony arrangements are impeccable without sounding canned, the playing is great, and the female vocal works up a gospel groove that is surprisingly deep and poignant.
The piano is wonderfully dominant on “Stay True”, as the soundscape shimmers and flourishes around it. Creating timeless music isn’t an easy task, but Joseph Matveyenko and Hazansky seem to have a knack for doing just that.
Joseph has a way of writing that is part personal and part storyteller. Which is fine, because by the end of each song the listener feels as though they have been on a musical trip together: “Running through the clouds – Even when we wake up – The stars are aligned – Fingers intertwined – We were only strangers in our rose-tinted love – Life was a game – Round trip – After round trip.”
The EP’s closing, piano and vocal driven song, “Better Alone”, is touching, very real and deeply honest, as Joseph sings: “You could’ve asked how are you, ooh – Or what you doin’ today – Instead you said you don’t love me – Anymore.” It’s really hard to ignore the lyrical directness the singer-songwriter wraps into the eloquence of this musical composition.
“Grandma” is one of those recordings that every real music artist hopes to make – virtually flawless, and not linked to any trends or specific time-frames. In it you can hear all the promise of Hazansky’s music; its tightness, its harmonies, and it’s impacting emotional vibes.
The EP also features Salvatore Manolo’s guitar work as well as the vocals of Andrea Thompson. This EP is a shining example of how pop culture music can be crafted and performed by blending jazz, soul and even gospel elements, without ever resorting to bombast.