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Robert Mitchell & Omar Puente at St. Cyprian's, London

Frederick Bernas By

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Robert Mitchell & Omar Puente
St. Cyprian's Church
London, England
April 1, 2008

This unlikely duo of acoustic piano and electric violin allows Robert Mitchell and Omar Puente to stretch their considerable abilities beyond the confines of a conventional jazz group. Perhaps more unconventional was the venue, literally a Church of Jazz, tucked away near Baker Street in central London.

This was the perfect acoustic for such a performance. Mitchell and Puente played a variety of standards, originals and a couple of Spanish songs, on which the Cuban violinist also sang. A highlight was Mitchell's composition "Envoy," a tricky piece in septameter. The pianist demonstrated his outstanding technique during an extended solo: his left hand would often hold a basic riff while the right took the lead, but he was not afraid to turn things around with the right maintaining fast sequences while the left struck down percussively or elaborated an improvised countermelody.

Puente also displayed the breadth of his technique, frequently switching between arco and pizzicato—the latter often offering provocative interjections during Mitchell solos. When the roles were reversed, Puente took the central position with the intense, fiery improvisation that has won him sideman gigs with the most respected musicians, including Courtney Pine and Denys Baptiste. His compositions were varied, expansive and occasionally complex, proving he is equally gifted with pen and bow. "Swings and Roundabouts" is a work of several movements, from cautious overture to intricately lyrical melodies and sharp bursts of simultaneous percussive co-ordination. "Somebody Backstage" reflects the same diverse character, but takes more of a relaxed ballad feel.

A finely-honed understanding exists between these two musicians, who bring out the best in each other. It's indeed fortunate that the F-IRE Collective has enabled this wonderful rapport to be captured on CD: Bridges was released in 2006. The partnership is at once a breath of fresh air for devout jazz fans and likely to appeal to lovers of classical chamber music.


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