Matt Mitchell is capable of prodigious virtuosity and Phalanx Ambassadors is a vehicle for his pianism. But the challenging repertoire also tests the limits to which other musicians can take their own musicianship. From the awe-inspiring opening chords you know that you’re in for something spectacular, and this disc does not disappoint – not from the quiet lyricism which is announced by the earlier songs, through the sullen mesmerism midway through the disc on “Phasic Haze Ramps” – where we hear Miles Okazaki’s madly plucked guitar alternates with the hushed interludes of intense but tinkling lyricism of Patricia Brennan’s vibraphone. All this comes to a head in the agitated crescendo that characterises the final third of the music until it explodes on “Mind Aortal Cicatrix”.
Through it all, I was struck by the burgeoning lyricism of Mr Mitchell’s music, and the increasingly sophisticated attitude to rhythm and musical time – a marriage of the mathematical and the poetic. On Phalanx Ambassadors he seems to have created a road map, through different speeds, thus to determine the routes along which the compositions travel as they wend their way through Mr Mitchells memorable and dynamic – imaginary – landscapes. By the time the music on the disc comes to a rest everything is connected. The lyrical and the mathematical are all nicely tied together, but not before the musicians perform what seems a stream of endless melodies that appear to be running virtually unbroken – all the while with thumping mathematical accompaniment from the brilliant rhythm section of Kim Cass and Kate Gentile in a kind of ceaselessly ticking musical clock often making wide turns through counterpoints and contradictions of the other musicians’ lyrical effusions.
This is a definitive performance by Mr Mitchell as well as the rest of the musicians who have accompanied him here. In ensemble or out on their own in the spotlight they help put a brilliant jigsaw puzzle of brightly coloured musical fragments which are dismantled and reassembled in constantly shifting patterns as the each work progress into a larger contiguous whole.
Track list – 1: Stretch Goal; 2: Taut Pry; 3: Zoom Romp; 4: Phasic Haze Ramps; 5: Ssgg; 6: Be Irreparable; 7: Mind Aortal Cicatrix
Personnel – Matt Mitchell: piano, Mellotron and Prophet-6; Miles Okazaki: electric and acoustic guitar; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone and marimba; Kim Cass: acoustic and electric bass; Kate Gentile: drums and percussion
Released – 2019
Label – Pi Recordings (P181)
Runtime – 45:56