London Jazz Festival Review (15) Robert Mitchell’s Panacea

Robert Mitchell’s Panacea
(Vortex, part of London Jazz Festival, November 12th 2010, Review and Photo Credit: Roger Thomas)

The Vortex was packed to the rafters for Robert Mitchell’s Panacea, performing material from his latest album The Cusp.

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The line-up consisted of a three piece string section (Mandy Drummond – violin; Ian Burdge – cello; Julian Ferraretto – viola) with Tom Mason – bass; Shaney Forbes – drums; Hammadi Valdez – percussion and Deborah Jordan on vocals. Robert revealed that he and Deborah had first worked together 20 years ago when both attending the same university. This was the first gig that cellist Ian Burdge had played with the band, but the ensemble gelled perfectly .

Mitchell’s compositions, such as the opening two-song segue, Lucid Dreamt and Fortunately So have intricate machinery, but also have a way of grabbing and demanding the listener’s attention.

Aura was a myriad of complex interplay. Jordan’s opening vocal statement is answered by the staccato strings with a steady heartbeat of chords from Robert. The drums and percussion providing the anchoring with an equally intricate Swiss clock like cross pulse. The tension releases into a piano solo cushioned by the string trio, but not for long as the piano solo get in it’s stride and with each section of the band performing their individual rhythmic and harmonic function, the song is fully alive like a breathing entity. The audience loved it.

Another highlight was Essence which began the second set. Starting with a percussion intro by Cuban percussionist Hammadi and Shaney on drums. Deborah kicks in with vocal lines over the rhythm which has now taken on the form of a hip-hop loop progressing to a full ensemble chorus with a slight funk feel about it, then back to vocals and the loop section. This time Robert plays a subtle pad sound on his Roland synth adding mood and texture eventually progressing to a unison piano and string motif. The whole ensemble starts to bubble over the piano solo reaching a tumultuous crescendo with drama coming from all sections culminating in an abrupt end.

Shaney Forbes was particularly impressive on Quantum, delivering some impressive cymbal and mallet work to introduce Robert’s haunting piano. Shaney’s use of time and dynamics showed a maturity beyond his age. It was like Elvin Jones incarnate. The Red Bridge was another masterly arrangement, with the solo section base around the chords of Monk’s Round Midnight. I could also hear some Oscar Peterson in Mitchell’s prodigious piano lines.

The audience stomped up an encore and were suitably pacified by Robert’s solo performance on piano, The Glimpse – for the left hand alone. A delicious chill pill from Doctor Mitchell.

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