Matt Mitchell is all about patterns. He plays them for a few bars and moves on. But each is quite technical and intricate, so much so that by the time you start getting your head around what he is doing on one, he is on to the next. Oblong Aplomb, a double album that pairs Mitchell in duos with drummers Kate Gentile and Ches Smith, is nothing short of brain food for those looking to add some unmitigated complexity to their day.
The first half is with Mitchell and Gentile. Their 6CD set Snark Horse is as good a reference point as any for this collaboration. Gentile’s relentlessness and penchant for busyness couple hand-in-glove with Mitchell’s densely-packed and jagged compositions. One of the more remarkable characteristics of hearing these two together is how they navigate shifts in tempo – they are so seamless that the listener might not notice the shifts happening. For the most part, Mitchell and Gentile maintain a structured approach with improvisation of varying degrees of freedom here and there.
The second half features Mitchell with Smith. At the surface level, these pieces seem quite similar to their predecessors. One notable departure, however, is that Smith employs a broader palette of instruments, including gongs, percussion, and vibraphone. Another is the incorporation of slower and quieter passages. This leads to only a slightly different feel, as Mitchell’s writing and playing still dominate the mix.
The Mitchell approach can be described in the same way as that of another well-known pianist with the name of Matthew…Shipp. Both are percussive, with elaborate lines, almost to the point of their output resembling chamber music more than jazz or whatever avant-unclassifiable venture on which they have set forth. Regardless, Mitchell is more than just a compositional wunderkind, as he exhibits a symbiotic relationship with both Gentile and Smith on this release.
Oblong Aplomb of course comes very highly recommended and will be released April 14 by Out Of Your Head Records.
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