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From School to Stage: Oberlin Conservatory Grads Join Big Names at Tri-C JazzFest

06.20.2017

Oberlin College Conservatory graduate Matt DiBiase is often asked to describe the unique music his band, Frisson, plays. He doesn’t have a simple answer.

The eight-member group, composed entirely of Oberlin grads, draws influences from jazz, fusion, rock, rhythm and blues and electronic music.

DiBiase, who composes the majority of the band’s songs, puts an original spin on the dictionary definition for frisson, describing the sound as, “a sensation typically expressed as an overwhelming emotional response combined with goosebumps.”

If that still sounds vague, perhaps the best way to appreciate Frisson’s music is to hear it, and fans of live music in Cleveland will get that opportunity when the band performs at the 38th Annual Tri-C JazzFest, June 22-24 in the historic theaters of Playhouse Square.

This year’s Tri-C JazzFest, presented by KeyBank, features a lineup including Chris Botti, Dianne Reeves, Boz Scaggs, Terence Blanchard’s Blue Note Sessions, Boney James, Norman Brown along with local musicians and several other performers, including Frisson.

Frisson is the brainchild of DiBiase who, in addition to graduating from Oberlin’s Conservatory,also earned a degree in neuroscience and is involved in two other musical projects.

DiBiase formed Frisson after deciding to pursue music professionally. He had played with the seven other members in various settings and believed he could pull their talents together.

“It was a big endeavor from the beginning,” DiBiase says. “I think it was a pretty organic process. I based the group more off of knowing the individuals and how they play off of various settings. I saw that the people would gel well if all put in the same room.”

“I was excited about the talent, but I think I was also very excited about just how cohesive the people would be and how easy it would be to get everyone to do rehearsals, and how much fun we would have.”

Along with DiBiase, who plays the vibraphone, other band members are Giveton Gelin (trumpet), Nathan Rice (tenor sax), Russell Gelman-Sheehan (guitar), Michael Orenstein (keys), Eli Heath (bass), Patrick Graney (percussion) and Chase Kuesel (drums).

DiBiase says Frisson counts as its influences the contemporary groups Snarky Puppy, Moonchild and Hiatus Coyote. Snarky Puppy, a Grammy Award winner, is largely responsible for what DiBiase describes as Frisson’s eclectic vibe.

DiBiase wrote and composed 12 of Frisson’s 14 songs, several of which will be included in the release of its second album. The other two songs were written by Kuesel, the close friend and bandmate with whom DiBiase also performs in a second band, Echoes, that has toured along the East Coast and in the Netherlands and Jordan.

DiBiase had a musical background before reaching Oberlin, but not a serious one. Growing up, he spent 12 years dabbling in both classical and jazz, including playing Bach compositions on the marimba.

“But music was really more of a hobby,” DiBiase said. “I didn’t fathom doing it as a career.”

In fact, he didn’t join the Conservatory until his second year at Oberlin, when he learned about the possibility of earning dual degrees.

For a time, he considered a career in neurological music therapy, an emerging field that uses music to help people recover from traumatic injuries or strokes. But that changed as he immersed himself more deeply in his work toward a jazz performance degree.

While he remains focused on his music, DiBiase has been offered a one-year neuroscience position in San Diego and is leaning toward taking it, which would put plans on hold for Frisson beyond JazzFest. Kuesel, his bandmate in both Frisson and Echoes, is planning to attend graduate school, creating more uncertainty about the future of the two groups.

DiBiase is also involved in another project called Plexus, which marries elements of electronic dance music and jazz with the aim of creating an interdisciplinary community of musicians, dancers and visual artists.

“I’m always inspired by other art mediums—visual art and dance art are things that I like,” DiBiase says. “I mean, half of the music in the world was written for dance.”

In the meantime, Frisson is preparing for its concert in Cleveland, where the band intends to showcase its evolution. When the group first formed, DiBiase spent a lot of time bouncing ideas off other band members and incorporating what he learned into his writing. The goal was to develop a unique sound that enabled each member to play to his strengths.

The increasingly polished finished product that emerged from that process is what Frisson hopes will create the sort of lasting success DiBiase envisions.

“Early on, I got a lot of feedback from people in the band, and I started learning about how to write better for everyone,” DiBiase says. “Once that happened, and I learned how people liked to play dynamically, I started to really get a vision for who should do the solos and when. It’s about having the rest of the players inform your creative process.”

Visit Matt DiBiase Music to hear Frisson and learn more about DiBiase and his other projects.

Visit Tri-C JazzFest to learn more about the jazz festival.

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