Pianist Matt Mitchell has become one of the most in demand musicians in jazz, playing with the likes of Dave Douglas, Tim Berne and Rudresh Mahanthappa. This is his second album as a leader for Pi, a double CD that allows him to stretch out and explore longer forms of his original compositions. Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor saxophone, Dan Weiss on drums and Chris Tordini on bass join him on this album. The music is complicated but accessible and Mitchell uses Speed’s hollow, open sounding clarinet and alternately soft and gritty tenor saxophone to great effect in setting the tone for these performances. “Utensil Strength” is very powerful, moving into a dynamic format that begins with deeper toned saxophone and then an eerie middle section of uneasy calm punctuated by Tordini’s creatively raw bowed and strummed bass. This develops into a beautiful duet with Mitchell who adds quiet drops of piano to the proceedings. The full band comes together at this languid but attractive pace, before taking their bows and closing the piece. Speed brings a gravelly form of saxophone to the intricate “Wearing the Wig of Atrophy” where the music deals with tension and release with a section of bass and milder saxophone followed by crystalline piano shimmering through the music, that is quietly emotional but never melodramatic. “Hyper Pathos” sets a tone of mystery, with mummers of percussion bubbling underneath and the other musicians harmonizing above. There is a sad quality to the music but never pity, and Speed’s clarinet is particularly melancholy as if he is pining for something lost that can never be regained, as Mitchell’s piano swells around him. “The Damaged Center” comes out of the gate hard with the full band pulling, but Speed is the key, jabbing and weaving his way through the music with Tordini playing thick powerful bass alongside him. They edge faster in a very exciting manner, really pushing and the music surges forward. Mitchell drives the band forward from the lower end of the keyboard and everybody responds, as the music keeps getting heavier, and then he develops one of his best solos on the album. This is a double album that doesn’t feel overlong in the slightest, Mitchell’s compositions and the band’s performances are very exciting and consistently engaging throughout. It’s a group of team players, and Mitchell is not flashy but thoughtful, allowing his music to speak for itself in a very affirming fashion. Vista Accumulation - amazon.com
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