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Matthew Mitchell: A Pouting Grimace

Karl Ackermann By

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A regular member of Tim Berne's Snakeoil and the Dave Douglas Quintet, pianist/keyboardist/composer Matt Mitchell has recently appeared on Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls (ACT Music, 2015) and Jonathan Finlayson's Moving Still (Pi Recordings, 2016). Mitchell has worked with a broad array of top-name artists including Steve Coleman, John Hollenbeck and Mario Pavone. Mitchell is a chameleon, able to take on completely different musical personas across of fast array of situations. His own Vista Accumulation (Pi Recordings, 2015) was one of the most highly regarded releases of that year. Frequently in demand, he has managed to produce ten albums as a leader or co-leader. The most recent, A Pouting Grimace, is an eclectic collection that defies categorization.

Mitchell's previous albums have been relatively small formations—solo through quartet—and so the twelve-person ensemble on a A Pouting Grimace is new territory for him, as a leader. In that company of players are exceptional names. Saxophonist Jon Irabagon (Mostly Other People Do the Killing), flautist Anna Webber and percussionists Ches Smith and Dan Weiss are on hand, and Tyshawn Sorey serves as conductor on two pieces.

The very brief "Bulb Terminus" is a bit of programmed reverie that leads to the loosely structured "Plate Shapes," a multifaceted maelstrom of cadences and noises with an impulsive sense of movement. Irabagon and bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck spend much of the time searching for their own alternate routes. "Brim" is the centerpiece of A Pouting Grimace as it provides a platform for the development of the surrounding compositions. At the core of "Brim" is a phantasmagorical, full-ensemble mélange that feels omnidirectional and free-flowing. The longest piece on the album, "Sick Fields" is an episodic anomaly that moves in fits and starts; it is as unstoppable as it is—at times—impenetrable. "Ooze Interim" concludes the album with a floating, solo electronics performance from Mitchell.

The free nature, density and complexity of A Pouting Grimace does not give way to blowout solos or overall chaos. The musicians wander a marauder's map, at times, interacting with each other, or occasionally looking for their own opening. This is an album focused on detail; it can be identified in slight, contrasting hues and in unflinching statements. It is certainly a unique and challenging listen.

Track Listing: Bulb Terminus; Plate Shapes; Mini Alternate; Brim, Deal Sweeteners; Squalid Ink; Gluts; Heft; Sick Fields; Ooze Interim.

Personnel: 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.

Title: A Pouting Grimace | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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