REVIEW: Robert Mitchell Trio and Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet (album launch) at Kings Place Festival

Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet and guests,
with the leader far right 

Robert Mitchell Trio and Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet
(Kings Place Festival, 2015. Report by Peter Jones.

Kicking off their new season of arts events, Kings Place last weekend staged a mini-blizzard of them for only £6.50 per ticket, a wonderful way of encouraging audiences to try something new at low risk.

Among the events on the Saturday of this eighth annual festival were two jazz gigs of exceptional quality.

Robert Mitchell Trio

Pianist Robert Mitchell is one of those musicians’ musicians who leave your jaw on the ground. His trio, featuring Mike Mondesir on electric bass and drummer Laurie Lowe, gave a masterclass in ‘chamber jazz’, by which I mean music played by a small ensemble, with empathic delicacy, in which there are often more spaces than notes, and an overall feeling of restrained intensity. On this occasion the sound quality was absolutely perfect, allowing you to hear every tiny brushstroke, bass harmonic and piano phrase with crystal clarity. And finding oneself part of an audience that is completely silent and absorbed in the music is a vanishingly rare experience these days. (At one point Mitchell asked, a little waspishly, ‘Are you enjoying this, by the way?’)

He had no cause to worry: you had to listen hard because all the material was brand new, and every detail was worth hearing. The austerity of the black-curtained auditorium was perfect for Mitchell, a quiet, precise, rather professorial figure wearing a simple blue t-shirt. His comments between tunes were elliptical and teasing: he introduced one rather dark and menacing piece as a tribute to Debbie Purdy, with no further explanation (in fact she was an MS sufferer and right-to-die campaigner who passed away at the end of last year). The title of another tune, The Spirit Line, apparently refers to traditional Navajo rug-weaving, in which there is usually a deliberate imperfection.

If this makes the whole thing sound somewhat precious, it wasn’t. Rather, it was captivating throughout, because it was richly inventive and full of contrast. At times, as on A Vigil For Justice, the trio could play in as minimalist a fashion as any ECM recording; at others, they poured out melodies of breathtaking beauty, as on Cumulus, a tune as airy and tumbling as its title. I doubt whether there is a better jazz pianist in London than Robert Mitchell.

Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet

If the music of the Mitchell trio is cool and contemplative, the quintet led by bass player Misha Mullov-Abbado provides the perfect contrast. It was standing-room only at this gig, the launch of his debut album New Ansonia, featuring some of the most interesting younger UK talent to emerge in recent years. Most are graduates of the Royal Academy of Music: on piano, none other than  all-round jazz wunderkind, Jacob Collier; on alto saxophone, Matthew Herd, currently launching his own ‘Seafarers’ project; on trombone, Tom Green, whose own septet has made such an impact in recent months. The quintet is completed by drummer Scott Chapman who, like Mullov-Abbado and Herd, is also a member of the Tom Green Septet.

The quintet’s line-up is slightly unconventional in featuring alto sax and trombone rather than tenor and trumpet; this is one of the many features that gives them their distinctive flavour. Mullov-Abbado’s compositions are characterized by terrific warmth and humour. Beginning with the clattering, carnivalesque samba Hair Of The Bop, the band moved swiftly to the gentler, richly melodic Circle Song in 6/8, followed by a couple of raucous swing tunes – Lock, Stock And Shuffle, with terrific solos from Herd, Collier and Chapman and the rollicking Gromit’s Grand Outing, a tribute to Aardman’s heroic plasticine pooch. Here, instead of individual solos, Green, Herd and Collier traded eights and fours – an indicator of Mullov-Abbado’s generous, inclusive approach.

Earlier the band had been augmented by percussionist Ben Brown; now James Davidson appeared on flugelhorn for Real Eyes Realise Real Lies, bringing the number of Tom Green Septet members to five. By the time they got to the album’s title track, there were nine of them on stage: Ben Brown returned, accompanied by Sam James on Rhodes (yet another Septet member) and Nick Goodwin on guitar.

This hugely enjoyable gig marked Jacob Collier’s final appearance with the band: ‘He’s getting too expensive’, commented the leader drily.

LINKS: Review of Misha Mullov-Abbado Quintet from March 2014
Robert Mitchell interview about Invocation

Robert Mitchell inteview about The Glimpse and playing left hand-only

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