The raw and visceral music of Matt Mitchell on A Pouting Grimace often sounds as if it has sprung into being from a point before or beyond the modern world, evoking elemental human or natural forces. In reality, however, it is probably born of that very modern world that it seeks to depict; the one that is crying out for help as it has been forced to join the destructive march of time that it has come to be part of as seemingly evident in the stylized violence of the music itself.
The music’s massive, rough-hewn quality, the monumental violence in the musical imagery – choruses of shrieking woodwinds contained in Jon Irabagon’s sopranino saxophone, the madly struck marimba and vibraphone of Ches Smith and Patricia Brennan, with interpolated passages for Kate Gentile’s drums; the demented plucking of Katie Andrews’ harp alternating with the hushed interludes of intense but muted lyricism – owes much to the dramaturgy of epic theatre as it does to Matt Mitchell’s being in the vanguard of contemporary improvised music.
The three-quarters of an hour spent with this music by Matt Mitchell are quite memorable. A Pouting Grimace is a musical allegory for the story of a modern death mask and – considering the times in which we live – is wholly appropriate. Even more wondrous is the musical conduction from the notes that leap off the page in the hands of Tyshawn Sorey’s conduction.
The shifting relationships between musicians and instruments evoke the elemental natural forces that have helped shape this musical death mask, which could well be perceived as a metaphor for the forces that shape the planet. Sometimes the (orchestral) strata stack up immensely; at other moments, they thin to the most diaphanous textures; but always there is the sense of returning to the same point, only to discover that the viewpoint has been changed in the interim.
On top of these seismic musical processes Mr Mitchell creates a virtuoso orchestral superstructure whose riotous details suggest the teeming life beneath the human surface in all its protean variety. This is the definitive Matt Mitchell recording, sublimely performed under the skilled baton of Tyshawn Sorey. It is a brilliant jigsaw puzzle of brightly coloured musical fragments which are dismantled and reassembled in constantly shifting patterns as the music progresses. An unforgettable experience.
Track list – 1: bulb terminus; 2: plate shapes; 3: mini alternate; 4: brim; 5: deal sweeteners; 6: squalid ink; 7: gluts; 8: heft; 9: sick fields; 10: ooze interim
Personnel – Matt Mitchell: piano, Prophet 6 and electronics; Kim Cass: contrabass; Kate Gentile: drums, gongs and percussion; Ches Smith: vibraphone, glockenspiel, bongos, timpani, gongs, Haitian tanbou and percussion; Dan Weiss: tabla; Patricia Brennan: vibraphone and marimba; Katie Andrews: harp; Anna Webber: flute, alto flute and bass flute; Jon Irabagon: sopranino and soprano saxophone; Ben Kono: oboe and English horn; Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon; Scott Robinson: bass saxophone and E♭ contrabass clarinet; Tyshawn Sorey: conductor
Released – 2017
Label – Pi Recordings
Runtime – 46:37