Matt Mitchell/Kate Gentile

Snark Horse
(Pi Recordings)

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.