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Matt Mitchell: Fiction

Mark Corroto By

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Pianist Matt Mitchell's debut solo recording, Fiction, is actually a duo recording. And while it is a performance of fifteen compositions, the music was originally conceived of as etudes, or short pieces—exercises to improve the pianist's ability to incorporate improvisation into composed music.

Mitchell is quite the in-demand sideman. He can be heard in Tim Berne's Snakeoil, Dave Douglas' Quintet, Darius Jones' Quartet, John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet, and in the bands of Michael Attias and Rudresh Mahanthappa.

This recording found its roots in Berne's Snakeoil tours when drummer Ches Smith began to play along with Mitchell's etudes. Smith is a player equally conversant in the languages of jazz and DIY rock. For him, swing and smash are confederates. He plays in the bands of Marc Ribot, and Mary Halvorson, and leads his own trio and quintet.

These etudes, presented for piano and drums, can best be described as Cecil Taylor plays Scarlatti. Mitchell employs extreme changes and twisting intervals, scraping odd rhythms against changing harmonics. The duo makes for a sympathetic pairing. Smith reads and interprets the pieces, matching Mitchell's percussive attack on "Upright," mimicking his funny walk on "Singe," and tracing (with vibraphone) the mathematical melody of "Wanton Eon."

The dense, ever-changing compositions give little respite to the ear. Mitchell's "Brain Color" is a hallucination that gives the impression of deconstructing Thelonious Monk's "Round Midnight." Here, he out-angles Monk's angular music. Mitchell hints at the melody like a hip-hop DJ, sampling pieces and parts of a dream Thelonious might have had. Mitchell and Smith pummel notes into the shape—but not necessarily the language—of Monk, but instead the late pianist's spirit. These exercises exhaust, invigorate, and ultimately inspire.

Track Listing: Veins; Brain Color; Upright; Singe; Wanton Eon; Dadaist Flu; Commas; Id Balm; Ohm Nuggets; Diction; Tether; Action Field; Specialty Hug; Nightmare Tesseract; Narcotic Bases.

Personnel: Matt Mitchell: piano; Ches Smith: drums, percussion, vibraphone.

Title: Fiction | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Pi Recordings

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