Matt Mitchell: Oblong Aplomb
(Out Of Your Head Records OOYH 019. Album review by Tony Dudley-Evans)
Oblong Aplomb is a double album on the innovative, Brooklyn and Richmond, Virginia-based Out Of Your Head Records; it has 24 relatively short tracks featuring pianist Matt Mitchell playing on 12 tracks each with drummer Kate Gentile and drummer/percussionist Ches Smith.
Mitchell seems to be the first call pianist for contemporary jazz groups in New York. He has appeared in the UK with Tim Berne’s Snakeoil, John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet and Dan Weiss’ Starebaby, and in New York he also plays with a number of contemporary classical ensembles. His playing combines the dramatic attack of the Cecil Taylor/Don Pullen style with the logic of Paul Bley’s playing.
This album is a follow up to the Fiction duo album recorded ten years ago with Ches Smith. Apparently, Mitchell wrote a number of short pieces around 2010 to work on ways to combine composition and improvisation and test his pianistic capabilities. He began to use them to warm up before gigs with Snakeoil, and eventually Smith, the band’s drummer, would join him.
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The first 12 tracks with Kate Gentile, whom Mitchell describes as ‘his closest musical and creative collaborator (and closest person),’ show Mitchell as a constantly inventive pianist whose playing throws up a stream of fresh ideas that move rapidly and seamlessly from one to the next and are here complemented by Gentile’s inventive drumming. Often, as on blinkered hoopla, Mitchell develops a series of repetitive phrases that are punctuated by the drums. Elsewhere, Mitchell develops confident rolling phrases, again, as on ruly, strongly supported by the drums. A lot happens in each track, and the overall approach could be described as ‘maximalist’ as opposed to ‘minimalist’.
Tracks 13 to 24 feature Mitchell with Smith, who plays drums on eight tracks and various percussion instruments, including vibes, gongs and glockenspiel, on the remaining four. The first two, the amused and chiasma feature Smith on drums, but there is an immediate contrast with the tracks with Gentile; Mitchell’s playing is rather more relaxed and lyrical without losing intensity. With Gentile, the drums seem to be driving Mitchell on and with Smith, the interaction seems more conversational. On the tracks on which Smith plays percussion, the pace is calmer, and Mitchell’s playing is more lyrical; labile and ingenious are examples.
The piano is sometimes described as a percussive instrument, and it certainly becomes so here. It is an album to be dipped into and enjoyed over a period of time. It is certainly worth doing so.