Heavy Metal Bebop: Pianist Matt Mitchell on the Bonds Between Jazz and Metal, and His Hard New Album

Source: WBGO.

Some jazz welcomes you in. Other jazz seems to announce, “Now this is happening, with or without you.”

Pianist Matt Mitchell’s work as a sideman — with trumpeter Dave Douglas, saxophonists Tim Berne and Rudresh Mahanthappa, and many others — spans this spectrum, but when he’s the one in charge, there’s a good chance you’re in for the latter. His music is, simply put, a handful.

Mitchell’s latest, A Pouting Grimace (due out on Sept. 29) is both his weirdest and most welcoming statement to date — and easily his best. The album takes his core trio, with bassist Kim Cass and drummer Kate Gentile, and adds a wild menagerie of sound, yielding a kind of mutant chamber jazz scored for 12-piece band.

Phrases zip, stutter and lurch, as striking instrumental colors — including Jon Irabagon’s sopranino sax, Sara Schoenbeck’s bassoon, Scott Robinson’s bass sax, Mitchell’s Prophet 6 analog synth and Dan Weiss’ tabla — leap out of the mix. Mitchell’s mad-scientist compositional sense is still on full display, but the album finds him playing with texture in a way that often feels downright gleeful.

Along with his deep immersion in jazz and contemporary classical music, Mitchell is a passionate fan of heavy metal — in particular, its more feral and outré extremes. He was a natural interview subject for Heavy Metal Bebop. So we met in Brooklyn last August to talk in depth about jazz and metal. A follow-up email Q&A, in which Matt discusses A Pouting Grimace, appears as a postscript to the main interview.