Matt Mitchell
Pi ****
Half of the quartet who recorded Shadow Man a month later and also produced by David Torn, pianist Matt Mitchell’s debut, a duo with drummer/vibes/percussionist Ches Smith, should really be listened to alongside the new Snakeoil album for maximum impact [review:]. Why? Well both records provide very new, innovative, often mysterious music that needs some sort of contextualising. Also they show different sides to Philadelphian Mitchell’s playing. Fiction is a seriously heavy record and the more naturalistic of the pair in the sense that Mitchell and Smith can be heard in a less busy state than Shadow Man with Smith recorded differently; and if anything the drummer is more brutal than he is on Tim Berne's record. Fiction is also more about the naked pianism of Mitchell, who is also known for his work with Dave Douglas and John Hollenbeck’s Claudia Quintet Plus 1 as well as with Snakeoil. An album designed as études to assist the pianist in integrating composition with improvisation the album does not in the least sound like a technical exercise and has a visceral as well as an intellectual dimension and is a thrilling listen. I hear a bit of Vijay Iyer and Matthew Shipp in Mitchell’s approach (say on opener ‘Veins’ and the offbeats of ‘Upright’) and Smith comes across a bit like Guillermo E. Brown at first. There’s a volatile fluidity to Mitchell’s improvisations, say on ‘Dadaist Flu’, and even surprisingly a rockism on ‘Tether’ where Smith ups the ante; or simply catch the eerie calm aided by Smith’s excellent vibes playing on ‘Specialty Hug’ as it descends. Stephen Graham
Released on Monday 30 September