PORT TOWNSEND — On his latest album, “Jazz Noir,” Dmitri Matheny explores the dark depths of 1940s-era gangster flicks — the type starring a femme fatale in dire need, and a crusty private eye willing to take the case.
Matheny and his quartet will perform selections Saturday during a live performance at the The Cellar Door in Port Townsend. The appearance is part of a 100-city tour of the United States.
The Dmitri Matheny Group features Chuck Easton on guitar,Ted Enderle on bass, Robert Rushing on drums and Matheny, the band leader, on flugelhorn.
“Jazz Noir” — released in February — offers “a fresh spin on crime jazz, film noir and timeless classics,” Matheny said this week.
The album, Matheny continued, includes movie themes from “Touch of Evil,” “Laura,” “Chinatown,” “The Long Goodbye” and “Stormy Weather,” along with modern standards “Estate” and “Caravan.”
It also includes two original songs — “Film Noir,” from a poem by Dana Gioia, and “Crime Scenes,” a San Francisco inspired jazz suite with voiceover narration in the hardboiled style of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, Matheny said.
This is Matheny’s 11th album as a leader, he said.
“We recorded at studios in Seattle and Oakland, Calif.,” Matheny said.
“I was really fortunate to be able to showcase some of my favorite west coast musicians and friends, including Bill Anschell, Matt Clark, Nick Manson, Charles McNeal, Susan Pascal, Phil Sparks, Todd Strait, Akira Tana, Jay Thomas and John Wiitala.”
Matheny, 50, of Centralia, was born Christmas Day 1965 in Nashville,Tenn., according to his biography.
Attracted to his father’s collection of jazz and classical LP records, Matheny began piano lessons at age 5, switched to the trumpet at age 9 and took up the flugelhorn at 18.
Matheny attended the prestigious Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan, then the Berklee College of Music, Boston — graduating magna cum laude in 1989.
After private studies with Carmine Caruso in New York City, Matheny became the protégé of the late Art Farmer, a well-known bebop jazz artist who specialized on trumpet and flugelhorn, Matheny said.
“Art Farmer’s role in the early success of Dmitri Matheny cannot be overstated,” observed writer and historian Phil Elwood.
“Without Art, there could be no Dmitri.”
During the 1990s, Farmer — who died in 1999 at the age of 71 — was Matheny’s public champion and private mentor, generously sharing his wisdom, experience and influence, Matheny said.
It was Farmer, Matheny said, who encouraged him to devote himself exclusively to the flugelhorn or “Big Horn.”
“The flugelhorn is a little larger than the trumpet,” Matheny said.
“It has a conical bell and produces a warmer, more lyrical tone. I love the sound of the flugel so much that I can’t even imagine wanting to ever play trumpet again.”
The flugelhorn is pitched the same as trumpet, “although its melodic range — where melodies sound best — is a little lower,” Matheny continued.
“The flugelhorn compares to trumpet a little bit like the viola to violin.”
While the flugelhorn is associated by many as a dark or somber instrument, its range allows Matheny to explore many different moods and emotions through song, he said.
“Trumpet players who double on flugel tend to use it only on ballads and the like, but I think the instrument can be equally expressive on lively, uptempo numbers,” he said.
“Check out Clark Terry and you’ll see what I mean. Joy, absolutely. Anger? That might be a challenge.”
Terry was a pioneer of the flugelhorn in jazz who died in February at the age of 94, according to the Boston Globe.
No matter the mood of his music, Matheny said he hopes to find “truth and beauty” during each performance.
That begins with the melody.
“For me, melody is the soul of a song,” Matheny said.
“It comes first and matters most. As a jazz artist, I like to interpret compelling melodies drawn from many genres, even country and western,” he said.
“For example, recently we’ve been performing ‘Wichita Lineman,’ the Jimmy Webb hit — popularized by Glen Campbell — about ‘an ordinary man thinking extraordinary thoughts.’ ”
Matheny said he also is putting together a jazz tribute to Patsy Cline.
The Dmitri Matheny Group takes the stage at The Cellar Door, 940 Water St., at 8 Saturday night.
There is a $10 cover charge.