Just in case, you missed it… pianist/ composer Matt Mitchell intersects various strains of acoustic, electric, composed, and improvised new music on his album Phalanx Ambassadors

Matt Mitchell, PHALANX AMBASSADORS (RELEASED: May 31, 2019)

Phalanx Ambassadors is the latest release from pianist/keyboardist/composer Matt Mitchell, whom Will Layman in PopMatters calls “the most complete and well-integrated improvising pianist of the last 15 years.” He also called his prior release, A Pouting Grimace (Pi 2017), “brilliant and varied… animated by breathtaking compositional imagination and startling arrangements.” Phalanx Ambassadors similarly features works that burst forth with intricate detail, featuring precise execution of multi-layered rhythmic material, adventurous harmonic exploration, and otherworldly melodies. While rigorously structured, the music also leaves ample room for intertwining improvisation.

If Pi Recordings has a “house pianist,Mitchell would be it. Not only is this his fourth release as a leader for the label, he’s also appeared on seven other critically-acclaimed Pi releases from Steve Coleman, Dan Weiss, Jonathan Finlayson, and Anna Webber, not to mention his work with the likes of Tim Berne, Dave Douglas, John Hollenbeck, John Zorn, and Linda May Han Oh, among many others. The reasons are obvious: Mitchell is almost uniquely capable of tackling such a huge range of musical material. Indeed, it seems as if he thrives on fresh challenges, both from other musicians, but especially of his own device.

Phalanx Ambassadors is no exception. As guitarist Miles Okazaki said: “With Matt’s music there is just an incredible shitload of information. It seemed to be an endlessly branching decision tree, where any momentary lapse of concentration would just leave you lost in the wilderness. Anyone who’s seen Matt play can relate how he seems to have trained himself to reach and maintain extreme levels of focus, navigating multiple streams of information that would clog the synapses of two or three competent players.” Mitchell called this “pretty definitively the most challenging music I’ve ever written for a band, ever,” which given his prior output, is saying a lot. Nevertheless, the music retains its melodicism, with episodes of shimmering finery and swinging, albeit sometimes off-kilter, grooves. Pianist Cory Smythe, a long-time admirer who is best known as the pianist for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and collaborations with drummer Tyshawn Sorey said of the music: “How is he managing to make so much dissonance — harmonic and rhythmic — gleam? His pieces all seem to set out to accomplish something by way of an almost cartoonish (in the best, most fanciful, clangorous way) profusion of parts, gears, levers. It comes at you like paragraphs of musical information all leading, ultimately, to a kind of epiphanic conclusion.”

The eponymously-named band – with Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Okazaki on guitars, Patricia Brennan on vibraphone and marimba, Kim Cass on bass, and Kate Gentile on drums — rehearsed for eight months in advance of their first performance in 2016, evidence not just of the music’s difficulty, but of the shared commitment to this music from each of the band’s members. Along with producer David Torn, the musicians descend into the maelstrom that is Mitchell’s idiosyncratic sound world, creating music that eludes all genre boundaries and conventions.

Matt Mitchell – piano, composition
Miles Okazaki – electric guitar
Patricia Brennan – vibes, marimba
Kim Cass – double bass
Kate Gentile – drums

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