Robert Mitchell is one of the UK's greatest living jazz pianists and in such a list would be placed somewhere near the top. When the Ilfordian played with the great Matana Roberts, Seb Rochford and Tom Mason in the Vortex back in 2010 that was an occasion when Roberts seemed to challenge him to through compose some sort of apposite harmonic episode in response to her jagged lines which he did with some aplomb. Rochford not to be outdone, as he usually knows exactly how to, played the drums as if he himself was playing the piano (the erstwhile Son of Kemet fundamentally knowing that the piano is itself a percussion instrument, think the Wilmer-esque notion of the piano as ''eighty-eight tuned drums.'')
Mitchell knows that too. But that was only one time and it's always stimulating to hear him whether in a Cecil Taylor-like mood or not. Here it's not like that style at all. Intimate away from a venue The Thread is instead a series of vignettes styled more in his own head space as a composer beyond any other style than his own. Some of the pieces are really brief but as usual with Mitchell they say a lot and you need to take it all in. However 'Flicker' is more than a lick, it finds an inner engine; 'Halo' spreads out more; 'To Keep Your Soul Intact' seems to return to the core atmosphere of the album, its introspective lost-in-thought dreaming a daytime vision. 'Once the Ink Dries' keeps the pervasive atmosphere intact.
Returning to The Thread over the last few days since release again and again is rewarding and I'll be returning more in the weeks and months ahead. Mitchell nonetheless remains an oblique improviser. You won't necessarily solve the puzzle of his sound because that is not the challenge. However, you have to listen hard to what he provides. And it's worth doing so.
As a zeitgeist album at the moment (this terrible ongoing situation for the mind, body and soul when live music continues to be absent making life harder than ever) there is no finer cure and tonic. Mitchell never shirks away from reality, eschewing random escapism within the prism of his abstractionism. SG.
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Robert Mitchell photo: Carl Hyde