Zealous Angles

Matt Mitchell

Track List

angled languor
apical gropes
grail automating
optical gripes
radial mazing

Zealous Angles is the first documentation of pianist/composer Matt Mitchell’s long-running trio featuring bassist Chris Tordiniand drummer Dan Weiss. Pi Recordings’ not-so-secret weapon, Mitchell now has six releases as a leader or co-leader and fourteen appearances on the label. His 2024 release Illimitable (on his and Kate Gentile’s Obliquity Records) was called “one of greatest albums of spontaneously composed solo piano music, ever…. a masterpiece of twenty-first century solo piano music” by The Free Jazz Collective. His last release on Pi – Snark Horse, co-led with drummer Gentile – was described by Downbeat as “a monumental collection of improvised and composed electro-acoustic music that no matter how wild it gets, never makes anything less than musical sense.”

The compositions on Zealous Angles reflect Mitchell’s recent interest in multiple asynchronous cycles using polyrhythm and polymeter. The pieces contain anywhere from two to six lines of different lengths, with the performers having the freedom to play any of the lines and also interpret and improvise within and among the material. The result of this divergence is a multifarious sort of rhythmic and textural fluidity in which the possibilities for group exploration and interaction are exponentially expanded. As is always the case with Mitchell’s band-leading ethos, all group members are heartily encouraged to bring all of their musical knowledge to bear as they see fit. In the case of the trio with Tordini and Weiss, this approach results in a panoply of spontaneous rhythmic and melodic expression that embraces and celebrates the rich history of the “jazz piano trio” but also evinces a zest for discovering previously uncharted creative spaces.

As Tordini describes the experience: “As with most of Matt’s music, there are complex rhythmic ideas, as well as unexpected harmonic and intervallic suggestions, but the nature of this music demands a certain amount of letting go and giving in to however the three of us are putting it all together in the moment. It’s a level of trust and a vibe we can achieve that only comes with long-term musical collaboration.”

This approach to composition and performance results in many divergent and compelling versions of the pieces. For instance, when choosing takes for the 11 compositions recorded for the album, it was apparent to Mitchell that both takes of “jostler” warranted inclusion on the record: while track 3 “jostler” is a spirited back-and-forth discussion of the three lines comprising the composition, track 10 “rejostled” ventures further afield into more dreamlike and enigmatic spaces. Mitchell then subsequently decided to similarly include alternate iterations of “sponger” [“lunger”], “traipse” [“pre-traipsed”], “cinch” [“synch”], “apical gropes” [“optical gripes”], and “grail automating” [“radial mazing”]. Each of these doppelgänger variants reveals alternate universes born of divergent paths. It’s a manifestation of three master improvisors simultaneously making countless instantaneous decisions and creating exhilarating music in the process.

In addition to co-leading Snark Horse with Kate Gentile, Mitchell also fronts several ensembles featuring many of the foremost improvisers on the scene, including Kim Cass, Jon Irabagon, Miles Okazaki, Mariel Roberts, Sara Serpa, Sara Schoenbeck, Brandon Seabrook, Ches Smith, and Anna Webber. He is a member of one or more groups led by virtually all of the aforementioned musicians in addition to others by Dan Weiss, Yuhan Su, and Miguel Zenon. He has a longstanding association with Tim Berne, and he plays or has played extensively with Steve Coleman, Ralph Alessi, Dave Douglas, David Binney, John Hollenbeck, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Linda May Han Oh, Jonathan Finlayson, Mario Pavone, Darius Jones, and many others.

The trio of Mitchell, Tordini and Weiss have been playing together for over a decade, and were previously captured on Mitchell’s 2015 Pi release Vista Accumulation (with saxophonist Chris Speed). Tordini is one of the most in-demand bassists on the scene, playing regularly with the likes of Becca Stevens, Marta Sanchez, Chris Speed, Caroline Davis, Angelica Niescier, and four critically acclaimed recordings on Pi as a member of drummer Tyshawn Sorey’s trio. Weiss is also no stranger to the label, with four boundary-shattering releases as a leader, all also featuring Mitchell. Their shared history is evidenced by the extraordinary level of communication required to bring this music to coherence. Indeed, what was scheduled to be a full-day recording session was surprisingly completed in three hours, a testament to the solidity of their musical bond.

Popmatters has said of Mitchell’s music that “there is some daring to every moment.” Certainly, Zealous Angles is no exception.