Robert Mitchell A Vigil for Justice, A Vigil for Peace
(Depth of Field DOF 001. LP Review by Peter Jones)
London jazz pianist Robert Mitchell has been a busy man over the last 20 years. First emerging into the public consciousness through his involvement with Tomorrow’s Warriors, he has since played on over 100 albums with all sorts of people, and released eight under his own name prior to this one. Also featuring Laurie Lowe on drums and Tom Mason on bass, A Vigil for Justice, A Vigil for Peace kicks off with You Have Taken Now (And Made Its Beauty Infinite). The rather wispy title is belied by the furious, spiky tune: a rock and roll intro from Lowe is followed by Mitchell’s asymmetric piano riff, which is then doubled by Mason’s electric bass. The title track is next, its simple chiming melody undercut by dark, prowling chords, as Lowe’s brushes skitter alongside.
Some of these tunes were premiered a couple of years ago at Kings Place, including the title track, A Tribute (for Debbie Purdy), and a number called The Spirit Line (Intro) which, as the title suggests, is a foretaste of a larger piece Mitchell has composed. What we haven’t heard before is Mitchell’s poetry, read here by Thami Hlabangana. The digital version of the album contains a number of poems, many of them providing a verbal counterpart to the musical tracks. Vinyl purchasers may also hear some of this spoken word element, read over a murmuring tune entitled The Migration.
When playing his own material, Mitchell’s style at the keyboard is precise, academic, challenging, often bracingly modernist. For many people, its appeal will not be immediate: the tunes require several spins to appreciate fully. But there is considerable pent-up power here – The Spirit Line is a typical example. It’s in three sections, beginning with solo piano, delicately punctuated by Lowe’s swishing cymbals and puttering tomtoms; a little later the bass arrives, after which Mason contributes a thoughtful solo, and then the song proper takes shape, ending with a restatement of the intro. I particularly liked the final tune, You Are My World, a funkier outing, with bits of synthesizer and toy piano sketched in.
The album is launched at the Vortex on 15 September, with Julian Lourau guesting on alto saxophone, plus the Japanese jazz dancer Masumi Endo. This is followed by appearances at the Karamel Club (4 October), Mau Mau Bar (5 October), Hen and Chicken, Bristol (5 November), St Lawrence Chapel, Ashburton (6 November) and St Ives Jazz Club (7 November).