By Suzanne Lorge | Published September 2021
The concept behind Snark Horse, pianist Matt Mitchell and percussionist Kate Gentile’s new release for Pi Recordings, intrigues as much for its exhaustive execution as for its perspicacious musicianship. What would happen if you turned over a discrete bar of music to some superb creative musicians and let them loose to improvise? And you did that 50 times over with a different musical prompt each time? You’d end up with about six hours of jazz tone poetry of varying moods, feels and musical vantages. It’s a breathless listen.
To give an idea of the range of expression here (a full reporting would be impossible), consider Mitchell’s “Thumbly.” After establishing the tune’s ominous, repetitious harmonic sequence in the piano, the composer engages the group’s four horns, three stringed instruments and rhythm section; the so-dubbed Snark Horsekestra then plays freely — agitated, disjointed — for near 16 minutes, with periodic descents into copacetic grooves all the more soothing for their rarity. On Gentile’s compositions, by contrast, the rhythmic phrasings predominate, as on the medley “F Tessellations/Chimeric Numbers,” which unspools into a tumult of driving acoustic utterances. It would be a mistake, though, to limit one’s understanding of these pieces by their compositional genesis; the point of each composition is its cathartic apex, where the players unleash their synergistic take on the composers’ ideas.
Lest this come across as a bit intense (and it is), the duo wisely interpolates Mitchell’s electronics-only compositions throughout the album’s program; shorter, simpler performances like “Pheromone Quiz” and “Garlic Plastics” provide some breathing room in between the complex ensemble improvisations. The most potent mitigation of this album’s intensity, however, derives from the clever wordplay of the titles — just enough snark to cause a smile.
Snark Horse: Snark Horse: Echo Emporium: Flock Adulation; Compartments/’s Partial; Hem(toadaso)da; A Pouting Grimace/Greasy Puzzle; Forn; Pheromone Quiz; Deep Recess; Fertile Pinwheels; Key Tettle/Flardle; Igh/Dogmacile. (56:13)
Fraughtleau: Trapezoids/Matching Tickles; All Tall Ghosts; Nudgelet; Thumbly; Asymptotic Rest Area; Underblobb Sys; Feral Pineals; Torpid Blather/Fuck Your Capitalization Style/Pendulum Wobbles; Teeming Molten Holdings. (53:34)
Minute Egress: Thing-Fact/Theoretical Muscle; Adrenal Halos/Dog Mat((t)t)gic; Alphabotanical; Bogs And Silence; Fickle Laughing; For Teens/Spinal Thought/Peripheral Drome; Infractal Sentences; Glubz/Spelling Bad On Purpose. (52:51)
Semi-Simulacra: Garlic Plastics; F Tessellations/Chimeric Numbers; Tooth Helmet; Tørn; Feebleau; Fruit Velvet; Mind Goggle/End Of Something; Regular Falutin’; Supple Bicepsual/Is Jingles/Utter Balbis. (53:00)
Subfusc Quiddities: Phoofaux/Rejected Names/High Popes; Sartling And Diaphanous/The Gnostic And The Spastic; B; Strikes Me As Wanting To Make Me Barf/Clump 3; Mad Homonymns/Phex; Plungeon; Ought Gobs/T. (56:49)
Panoply: Breach Zone; Elegiac Foldouts/Gluey Clamor; Mighnutes; Glue Cubes/Inkblot Terrain/Clock Levitation/Cat Secrets/Bludgement; Catjinx; Fettleau/A Spree ... Canopy. (58:33)
Personnel: Kate Gentile, compositions, drums, percussion; Matt Mitchell, compositions, piano, modular synthesizer, Prophet-6, MicroFreak, electronics; Kim Cass, acoustic and electroacoustic bass; Ben Gerstein, trombone; Jon Irabagon, tenor, mezzo-soprano, sopranino and soprillo saxophones, alto clarinet; Davy Lazar, trumpet, piccolo trumpet, cornet; Mat Maneri, viola; Ava Mendoza, guitar; Matt Nelson, tenor and alto saxophones; Brandon Seabrook, guitar, tenor banjo.
Ordering Info: pirecordings.com