While listening to Max Hatt and Edda Glass at El Mesón in Santa Fe on a recent evening, I realized, from the very first note, that I’ve never heard a more beautiful pairing of voice and guitar. They were performing as Rio, one of their iterations, which focuses on bossa nova and jazz. Edda’s voice floats in the air, beckons and plays hide and seek with the listener; it sweeps from a beguiling whisper to a deep place of power and restraint. Max’s fret work is the perfect accompaniment. He coaxes the notes from the strings; he moves in a slow dance, crouching and turning; by his gesture, he entreats us to listen. He is transported into a musical world and brings us along. I close my eyes and what I see is smoky, vivid and rich. The music is beautifully crafted, seasoned, as only time—in this case, over a decade of performing together—can accomplish. Rio however, as beautiful a mix as it is, only touches the surface of what this duo has to offer.
Their musical worlds came together in Montana. “Helena,” says Edda. “The part with trees.”
“And people,” adds Max. At the time, Max had a jazz trio and Edda had a voice. Singing “was almost like a hobby for me for most of those years,” says Edda. But, “I knew all these bossa nova songs so I started sitting in and doing these songs, and they pretty soon became a bossa nova quartet instead of a jazz trio. That’s the story of Rio, and we did that in Montana for 10 years or so.”
Edda continues, “We were doing all this jazz and bossa nova, very exotic stuff—in Montana.” She laughs. “It’s very cold and very rural, so it’s an insulative (sic) experience to do that kind of thing. But at the same time, it’s a very beautiful place and very inspiring. ”
Then about two years ago they moved to Santa Fe, “mainly,” says Edda, “because we realized we could actually make a living as musicians in a place like Santa Fe as opposed to Montana where it’s pretty difficult.” When first living in Santa Fe, relative to Helena, it felt like the big metropolis. But now it feels just right. After touring this past fall, says Edda, “we came back to Santa Fe (and) it really felt like home to me. Coming back it felt really good.”
On the move to Santa Fe, Max says, “It’s been really great for us. Got us exposed to people from all over the country. Very interestingly, we’ve done gigs all over the country from people we’ve met here who hired us to do really nice gigs in other cities.” He laughs and adds, “we like everything but the allergy season.”
Both Max and Edda have some training, but think of themselves largely as self-taught. “I grew up listening to rock and roll and folk music,” says Max. “I was interested in guitar, and got interested in jazz when I was in college.” He attended a jazz program at Indiana University with noted jazz composer David Baker. “I loved jazz, and when I started writing songs it I just fused those influences very naturally. I like improvisation and I like sophisticated music but I like it to be melodic. I like works that tell a nice story. Our original stuff… it just sets this nice stage for Edda’s lyrics.”
“I was in a really good choir program in middle school and my first couple years in high school in Michigan,” says Edda. “So I had a little bit of a background in singing technique. Even more importantly my dad is a jazz trombonist, and my mom is a big music lover, so I had that as I grew up. All the jazz standards are part of my background.” She continues, “I wish I’d majored in music instead of what was it, political philosophy? Ironically, it would have been more practical for me.”
“We like to say Rio is our day job,” and it’s obvious he loves playing bossa nova. “It’s very seductive, it kind of lends itself to voyeurism,” he says. “You hear that music and you kind of start thinking about beaches and dunes and beautiful women and you know, cocktails and white suits and I don’t know, all kinds of stuff.” Yeah, I’m with him on this. Grinning, Max adds, “And the language is so beautiful, I mean, how can you not like Portuguese?” So, not surprisingly, Rio’s offerings have been a hit, both in clubs and private venues.
Beyond the day job, Max and Edda are passionate about writing and performing their own music. On their style, Max finds influence from bossa nova. “It’s lyrical in the same way; it’s melodic in the same way,” he says. “It’s kind of soft and gentle. The original stuff has a Western theme. I don’t mean Country Western, but I mean investigating the line, the intersection between what it’s really like to live in the American West and the mythology of the West, as we’ve all grown up with it, the Westerns, all those images.”
Max, who calls himself, “a very bad imitator,” draws inspiration not only from other musicians, but from being in the West. It is a bit melancholic. “I moved to the West because I like to have more space.…not so distracted, a little more calming, a little more reflective. There’s another dimension to being in the West, you know, it’s very liberating; you’re looking around, it’s majestic, it’s inspiring, but also you realize you’re kind of a small little speck on that horizon. So it can make you feel vulnerable,” Max says. “I think you can feel pretty lonely in the West.”
“His original music is extremely evocative,” says Edda, who describes it as, “very movielike, very cinematic.” She continues, “He has this huge body of solo guitar pieces, that are completely stand-alone. They are gorgeous. In fact that’s my favorite way to hear them, just solo guitar.”
Keenly interested in writing when Edda connected with Max’s trio, she knew early on that music would be her career. “When I started writing lyrics to Max’s songs, it was like I can combine these two things, the writing and the music, and it was like, this is it. That was very exciting.” As to her inspiration, Edda says, “A lot of these songs actually started by having (Max’s solo guitar pieces) on in the car while driving across Montana to a bossa nova gig and seeing, developing stories in my head, while seeing the landscape. For me they really evoke Montana and now some of these newer songs are Southwestern. For me they have a sense of place.”
As the duo Max Hatt / Edda Glass, they have recorded two albums, which, with the exception of a couple tracks, are original work. I’ve listened to them, about three times over, gladly, including their new CD, Ocean of Birds. This recording is available now at their gigs, but will be officially released in April. “It’s kind of Americana, folky-jazz influenced,” says Max. “A little bit more lyrical than most contemporary music, a little bit more harmonic, a little bit more, maybe sophisticated.”
A well-deserved boost to Max and Edda’s national and international visibility came in 2014 in being selected as grand prize winner of the 13th Annual NewSong Showcase and Competition. As part of winning the contest they performed on NPR’s Mountain Stage at the Sundance Film Festival, and in their own concert in New York at Lincoln Center. Kudos!
This past fall they finished a seven-week tour, which gave them a new perspective on the importance of live music around the country. “Then thousand miles, 38 states since the end of September,” Max says. I blink my eyes. Now that’s a road trip! “We played a lot of gigs all over the country, and only one of those gigs wasn’t a listening venue.” He talks about playing a jazz club in Ashville, N.C. “It was a room full of 50 or 60 people. When the music started, nobody was talking.”
Edda interjects, “They had their drinks and their meals, and you could hear how carefully they were using their cutlery. It was very touching!” The tour, “was so remarkably positive, we just went everywhere,” says Max. “You can hardly name anyplace east of the Mississippi that we didn’t visit, and everybody was so supportive and so receptive. There’s such a hunger in the country to listen to good music, something new that (we’re) not hearing on the radio. I was shocked at how really hungry people were, how open people were to hear live music.”
Well, I suspect it wasn’t to hear just any live music. The thoughtfulness, depth and care that Max Hatt and Edda Glass put into their craft might have had something to do with it.
Max Hatt and Edda Glass, maxhatteddaglass.com. email@example.com. riobossanova.com.
Upcoming Area Performances
- Rio at El Mesón, Thursday, February 4, 7-9 p.m.
- Rio at Art in the Afternoon, Albuquerque Museum, Saturday, February 6, 2-5 p.m.
- Max Hatt / Edda Glass at GiG Performance Space, produced by the Open Arts Foundation, Saturday, February 27, 7:30 p.m. Tickets $20 at the door.
Story by Gordon Bunker