Matt Mitchell - A Pouting Grimace

Label/Year: Pi Recordings, 2017

Lineup – Matt Mitchell: piano, Prophet 6, electronics; Jon Irabagon: soprano and sopranino saxophone; Ben Kono: oboe, English horn; Scott Robinson: bass saxophone, contrabass clarinet; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Anna Webber: flutes; Katie Andrews: harp; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone, marimba; Ches Smith: vibraphone, glockenspiel, marimba, timpani, percussion; Dan Weiss: tabla; Kim Cass: upright bass; Kate Gentile: drums, percussion; Tyshawn Sorey: conductor.


One of the most adventurous pianists and inescapable presence in the scene is Matt Mitchell, who, besides his own work, is a fundamental piece in Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, Dave Douglas Quintet, Darius Jones Quartet, and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls.

The cover of A Pouting Grimace, his latest work, exhibits an intriguing collage of figures that assume different forms, textures, and colors. This illustrates Mitchell’s compositional style and music. These forms sometimes live secluded; other times they collide with other forms, metamorphosing into a new creature with a totally different texture, consistency, and visual appearance.

The off-kilter sounds on the album respond positively to the high bar raised with his previous quartet-session Vista Accumulation. It is layered by an enthusiastic set of musicians who performed beautifully within the various formations envisioned by Mitchell for each tune.

Mitchell, alone, opens and closes the album with a soaring monochromatism that stems exclusively from electronic sound manipulations. This is just the skin of a body that transpires many more surprises when its guts are exposed.
The impressionistic “Plate Shapes” is a complex vortex of rhythms and sounds that advances moderately yet compulsively. It feels like a nonstop train running, hastened by Jon Irabagon’s sopranino runs and Sara Schoenbeck’s inquisitive bassoon. Expressing freedom, this trip is a paradise for the instrumentalists and true explorers who alternately dive into unisons, ostinatos, and impromptu ideas in the form of deft phrases and motivic figures.
The combination of Kim Cass' propulsive swinging bass and Kate Gentile’s vibrant drumming becomes best friends with Mitchell’s dazzling textures on “Mini Alternate”, a mutant piece featuring the charming yet cavernous sounds of Scott Robinson’s bass saxophone and the bandleader’s meticulous explorations. Ches Smith on glockenspiel and Dan Weiss on tabla enrich the scenario with quality vibes when the band gets suspended in a hectic groove before landing definitively on an enchanting percussive soil. Fragrances from the Middle East aromatize the air through Ben Kono’s flexuous oboe drives.

Brim”, enthusiastically built up by a 12-piece ensemble, is one of a pair of pieces conducted by Tyshawn Sorey. The group decants a spiral of rampant rhythms and dancing polyphonies that stimulates the senses with its imaginative sounds imbued with cinematic avant-garde flair.

Mitchell, Cass, and Gentile, performing in a classic piano trio formation, launch “Gluts” into the orbit. During the mission, they come across with Anna Webber’s alto flute, Schoenbeck’s bassoon, and Katie Andrews’ harp. Interaction is urgent and indispensable.

Impressively aesthetic, “Heft” is a poignant piece delivered in quintet, whose dual nature encompasses dark and glittery tonalities. Full of spins and thrills, it starts with rhythmic splashes, at the same time that patterned high-pitched piano notes are thrown against the low-toned honks expelled by the bass saxophone. After a recurrent piano phrase of intervallic quality, Irabagon and Robinson embark on a powerful collective improvisation suffused with wild, bouncing attacks, which leaves the impression we have a much bigger band in action. The tune finishes calmly and gorgeously at the sound of contrapuntal piano and sopranino, and an unobtrusive percussion as their friendly company.

Mitchell loves to push boundaries, assuring a gravitational balance that starts in the mind and is transported to his nimble fingers with precision and resolve. Every inch of this uncategorizable music is cerebral, intelligent, and absolutely mesmeric. 
You can put down this one on the list of 2017 mandatory albums.

         Grade  A+

        Grade A+

Favorite Tracks:
02 - Plate Shapes ► 03 - Brim ► 08 - Heft