Matt Mitchell – Vista Accumulation [TrackList follows] – Pi Recordings, (2 CDs) PI62, 49:18, 47:05 [10/16/15] ****:
(Matt Mitchell – piano, producer; Chris Speed – tenor saxophone, clarinet; Chris Tordini – bass; Dan Weiss – drums)
Collective improvisation is important to pianist Matt Mitchell’s music. Mitchell—a 2015 recipient of the Doris Duke Impact Award— is a member of Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, the Dave Douglas Quintet, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Bird Calls, John Hollenbeck’s Large Ensemble and the Darius Jones Quartet, and has participated in other projects. On Mitchell’s first quartet album—the double-disc Vista Accumulation—he expands jazz parameters, with longer-form pieces which grasp at both the past (shades of jazz tradition) and the present (references to modern classical music, thoroughly contemporary jazz music and leading-edge jazz performance). Mitchell is ably bolstered by Chris Speed (on tenor sax and clarinet; he’s also worked with Douglas and Berne, as well as Myra Melford); bassist Chris Tordini (who has spent time with Tyshawn Sorey, Chase Baird and more); and drummer Dan Weiss (a solo artist who has also hit the skins for David Binney and is part of the Weiss-Kaplan-Newman Trio).
Mitchell’s tunes (four on the first disc and four on the second disc) comprise detailed music which involves constant, continuously evolving communal playing as well of lots of solo space. Thus, tracks such as the first CD’s opener, the 15-minute “Select Your Existence,” encompass a narrative-like sweep and a greater scope, with unforeseen moments of interaction and improvisation. Each cut is unique but the whole record has a connective impression. The process is akin to a master raconteur recounting short stories which add up to a larger tale with both familiar and unexpected elements. “Select Your Existence” isn’t an easy listen. Mitchell, Speed, Tordini and Weiss are tenacious in building pressure and tension as they assemble harmonic fractures, nervous rhythmic jumps, quietly emotional parts, and up-thrusting and discordant fragments.
The 16-minute epic, “Numb Trudge,” seethes with multi-layered cogency. Mitchell plays forcefully, striking his keys with staccato insouciance, while Tordini and Weiss interleave a complex rhythmic pattern. Speed uses his tenor tone with disconcerting harshness. Throughout this sustained tune, there is a persistently unfolding freedom and yet also an echoing repetition, like splintered mirrors reflecting light in a disjointed rainbow of coloring. The shortest cut on CD 1, the almost nine-minute “‘twouldn’t’ve,” has a cerebral rhythmic confidence, tumbling polytonality, and a centered cognition which intermingles emanating improv with a classical music-like outline, basically in-the-moment inventiveness unified with pre-conceived portions. But where one starts and the other ends, is not simple to discern.
CD 2 is more explorative. The lengthiest presentation, the nearly 17 minute “Utensil Strength,” twists and turns from spiky and erratic, to nuanced and subtle. When the momentum slows, Speed breathes down through his tenor sax to generate ambient noises rather than clearly-defined notes or chords. Mitchell hints at contemporary classic composers such as Morton Feldman (not overtly, but in the manner the quartet rushes from heated to even-tempered, from diagonally disturbing to ambiguously calming) and Harrison Birtwistle (also not visibly, but in oblique ways via provocative and acerbic chords and phrases). “Utensil Strength” is not effortlessly digested in one sitting. The track’s long-term development is best experienced by listening several times to the foursome’s communication; how the narrative arc flows from commencement to midpoint to conclusion; and the selective aural specifics.
The almost eight-minute number “Wearing the Wig of Atrophy” is initiated with a fissured rhythm which has an irregular nature. Speed is upfront on tenor sax, his warm tone seared by the cut’s bumpy rhythmic configuration. Then Mitchell and Weiss have a lovely, balladic duet dialogue, where Weiss’ cymbals and brushes beautifully blend with Mitchell’s keyboard. The evocative mood is heightened when Speed re-enters, this time on clarinet. His genial tonality imparts an impression of finely-etched eloquence. The ten-minute “Hyper Pathos” also has softer intervals, but like most of the material, there is an undercurrent of anxiety, notable by means of Weiss’ ticking percussion and Mitchell’s sharp, single piano notes. The quartet closes with the spiraling “The Damaged Center,” which focuses on contrasted improvisations and an abundantly fluctuated compositional viewpoint. It’s difficult to isolate where written and created divisions are situated. Throughout Vista Accumulation there is a manifestation of breaking free from musical constraints, brushing away from jazz conventions and into the non-conformist future of jazz.
CD 1: Select Your Existence; All the Elasticity; Numb Trudge; ‘twouldn’t’ve.
CD 2: Utensil Strength; Wearing the Wig of Atrophy; Hyper Pathos; The Damaged Center.