Jonathan Mattson started providing a beat for his twin brother Jared about eight weeks after conception, a steady pulse that in one form or another has propelled their relationship onto international stages.
It wasn’t until their mid-teens that they introduced the rest of the world to their preternatural rhythmic bond, and by that time Jonathan had expanded his rhythmic arsenal from the cardiac to the trap set, accompanying his brother’s turbo-charged electric guitar. What began in utero has evolved into Southern California’s avant-surf-jazz combo known as the Mattson 2, a mighty duo that generates a shimmering multilayered sound with Jared’s looped bass lines and chiming riffs.
The Mattsons bring their dynamic combo to Michael’s on Main on Thursday, and return Friday with Oakland guitar great Calvin Keys, an acid jazz patriarch esteemed by jazz legends like Pat Metheny and Ahmad Jamal.
The identical twin brothers’ musical connection flows from “sharing the same DNA strands,” says Jared, speaking by phone from the family’s San Diego County ranch. “It’s the way we were designed and brought into this world. We communicate with this heightened level and use our twinship to our advantage.”
Nature may have given them a boost in non-verbal communication, but the brothers have also been nurtured by some remarkable musicians. While earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in music from UC San Diego and UC Irvine, respectively, they studied with heavyweights like inventive trombonist/composer Michael Dessen, Silk Road Ensemble shakuhachi maestro Kojiro Umezaki, and flutist and Afro-futurist visionary Nicole Mitchell.
“We had all these amazing resources to dive into,” Mattson says. “Nicole Mitchell said, ‘What I do is very similar to what you could be doing, mixing the known and the unknown.’”
The brothers connected with Calvin Keys through his classic 1971 debut album Shawn-Neeq, which was reissued by Tompkins Square Records on vinyl in 2012. Though obsessed with the album, they didn’t realize that Keys was still very active on the Bay Area jazz scene until visiting a cousin in the East Bay who happened to mention a regular jam session at Oakland’s now defunct 57th Street Gallery that the guitarist led for years.
This spring, the Mattson 2 spent several months on the road opening for the popular Thai-inflected psychedelic funk trio Khruangbin. When the tour hit the Fillmore for two nights last month, the brothers invited Keys to come by and check them out. Duly impressed, Keys readily agreed to join them in playing the music from Shawn-Neeq track for track.
“I like the energy they had, and they sure get a lot of music out of that duo,” says Keys, 75. “The drummer Jonathan is a monster. It’s going to be interesting to see how we come up with something. Shawn-Neeq was written for my niece when she was like a week old, and we tried to capture the beauty of bringing a newborn baby into the household.”
Born and raised in Omaha, Nebraska, Keys spent most of the 1960s on the road playing with various organ combos on the Midwest chitlin circuit, including extended road trips with Jackie Ivory, Jackie Davis, and Frank Edwards (whose long Bay Area runs introduced Keys to the region). A rising force on the L.A. jazz scene in the early 1970s when he connected with Black Jazz, Keys created a soul jazz touchstone marked by his warm tone and slinky phrasing.
Shortly after Shawn-Neeq’s release, Keys hit the road with Ray Charles on a Norman Granz-produced tour with the Count Basie Orchestra and the Oscar Peterson Trio. After two years with Charles, he honed his pianistic approach during a long stint in piano legend Ahmad Jamal’s quartet, an experience during which he “developed a certain emotional drive,” says Keys, who moved to Oakland in the mid-70s.
He’s still part of Jamal’s extended musical family, but Keys has thrived as a guitarist’s guitarist, serving as a mentor or beacon for searing players like Mimi Fox, Bruce Forman, and Pat Metheny, who dedicated the tune “Calvin’s Keys” to his fellow Midwesterner on the 2008 album Day Trip (Nonesuch). Keys is “the real deal,” Metheny told me in an interview several years ago, and now the Mattsons are taking their first step into his ravishing musical world.
The Mattson 2 perform at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday and 9 p.m. Friday at Michael’s on Main, 2591 S Main St., Soquel. Tickets for each show are $25. 479-9777.