Matt Mitchell & Kate Gentile
Snark Horse (PI Recordings)
All hail experimentation! For their Snark Horse adventure, percussionist Kate Gentile and pianist Matt Mitchell invited an improvising cohort to have their way with a series of one-bar phrases specifically written to generate a wealth of ideas. Sometimes a kernel is all you need to launch engaging extrapolations, and on this six-CD set (!) said cohort finds numerous directions in which to head. The Zip codes of their final destinations are far flung locales to say the least. Amiable dissonance, wobbly riddims, and clashing motifs make for luminous dreamscapes, anxious waiting rooms, and psychedelic confessionals. Those familiar with the leaders’ previous work shouldn’t be shocked by the daunting variety of these soundscapes. Those familiar with the previous work of their guests – saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Kim Cass, guitarist Brandon Seabrook, violist Mat Maneri, trumpeter Davy Lazar, guitarist Ava Mendoza, trombonist Ben Gerstein, and saxophonist Matt Nelson – probably know that they’re pros at painting themselves out of corners. Free improv is thrilling when the instantaneous ensemble mind-meld becomes deep enough (see the Morse Code pulse moves of “tooth helmet”), and though the Snark squad has chosen some dangerous territory on which to plant their flag, much of its effort – including the Lee Perry ambiance of “fertile pinwheels,” the off-the-menu caprice of “feral pineals,” or the Franz Waxman spookiness of “alphabotanical” – is vital in ways that only the sturdiest abstraction can be.