Matt Mitchell

Vista Accumulation
Pi Recordings Pi 62

After establishing himself in the bands of Tim Berne and John Hollenbeck among others plus releasing a duo disc with percussionist Ches Smith, pianist Matt Mitchell bolsters the scope of his creativity with this two-CD set of eight interlocking compositions. Lengthy explorations, the Mitchell pieces give ample space to his piano playing the bass work of Chris Tordini plus expanded commentary from drummer Dan Weiss and tenor saxophonist/clarinetist Chris Speed, all of whom he has worked extensively with in the past.

No revolutionary, Mitchell is like a chemist who has created a formula to refine an already existing compound. But by making the best use of the talents of his associates who have logged time in the bands of Rudresh Mahanthappa and Tyshawn Sorey among others, Vista Accumulation defines the outer edge of mainstream modern jazz. In a reversal from those conventional players who reject speculative sounds in toto, the pianist and company don’t shy away from more experimental timbres, but temper them with blasts from the musical past. This may be one of the few times when the slogan “new and improved” has real meaning. Such tracks as the introductory “Select Your Existence” and “All the Elasticity” swing with the sophisticated finesse of a Teddy Wilson facing vital harmonized links from Benny Goodman or Lester Young respectively, with Speed’s horns portraying both roles. The latter tune also calls upon Mitchell’s training in so-called classical music, although the agility with which he and Speed lock in with the bassist’s and drummer’s spiky movements is something not taught in conservatories.

The pianist, who can capably outline a tune with akimbo patterning doesn’t neglect free-flowing glissandi, as he demonstrates on the first selection, Like flares on a battlefield these keyboards illuminations put into bolder relief the saxophonist’s hardening blowing, otherwise understated, despite its battle-ready competence. Using Tordini’s double stopping as an anchor while interpreting “Hyper Pathos”, Mitchell and Speed unveil chugging dynamics which closely harmonize in a way Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck did at their most simpatico. The group manages to keep an assortment of time, pitch and tempo switches moving at once like the game plan of an experience juggler on “Utensil Strength”, demonstrating that stop-start interface, false climaxes and fluctuating tone coloration work in many circumstances. So does Monk-like key-clipping, mixed with buoyant reed vibrations on “Numb Trudge”. Throughout, an underling connection among the different tracks is consistently maintained.

Finally like the revelatory chapter is a moderately paced thriller, the CD achieves its apogee with the concluding, but oddly titled “The Damaged Center”. Uncorking a raunchy, pressurized tone from his tenor, Speed outlines a pseudo Blues exposition which is further torqued by Mitchell’s repetative dynamics. Breaking down the wall between straight-ahead and experimental, the pianist’s kinetic comping manages to be both modal and moderate. Pulling reed vibrations into a cavorting sound dance, Mitchell’s variations preserve the theme as well as working out extensions to it that echo some of the session’s earlier compositions.

This thematic connectivity may be the session’s only defect, as well as being its strength. Except for a couple of exceptions, by framing too many compositions in a similar fashion, unity trumps diversity. But Mitchell has certainly established an unbeatable and identifiable Jazz persona with this disc.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: Disc 1: 1. Select Your Existence 2. All the Elasticity 3. Numb Trudge 4. ‘twouldn’t’ve Disc 2: 1. Utensil Strength 2. Wearing the Wig of Atrophy 3. Hyper Pathos 4. The Damaged Center

Personnel: Chris Speed (clarinet and tenor saxophone); Matt Mitchell (piano); Chris Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums)