Robert Mitchell’s octet Panacea are out and about; at Wiltshire Music Centre (WMC) last night, Future Inns tonight and on round the country. WMC had the gig set up in the foyer creating a really pleasant ambiance, doing justice to this absorbing and intriguing set. The music was almost all from their new album ‘The Cusp’ and the line – up was the same intriguing mix (vocals, violin, viola, cello as well as conventional rhythm section plus percussion) Mandy Drummond was on viola for the gig.
The opening number, Lucid Dreamt, had a dark foreboding air to it, but with the same elements as the gradually more buoyant pieces that followed. Moody intros, featuring different instruments were followed by a vocal section from Deborah Jordan with a more rhythmic groovy section setting up a platform for soloing often from Robert Mitchell himself. In that opener, the lyric was unaccompanied, showcasing Deborah Jordan’s beautiful pure tone voiced and giving a foretaste of the engaging but angular melody lines that were typical (invariably haunting, they would take some technical skill to sing back after the gig). As the evening wore on Shaney Forbes on drums and Hammadi Valdez on percussion produced irresistible grooves that underpinned the solo sections, making it hard to sit still. At these moments the music wouldn’t have been out of place on a dance floor, at others, the intensity of the piano solos would leave you in no doubt that you were at a full on jazz gig, and at yet others the interwining of the vocal and the piano accompaniment were reminscent of a Steven Sondheim piece, most particularly on the beautiful balladic Mio Inamorato. This is ‘listen again’ music but with plenty of immediately accessible hooks to make the first impression very engaging. The evening finished with a burn up on ‘Red Bridge’ reminding us (if we needed it) just what a dazzling player Robert Mitchell is (complete with the ‘party piece’ left hand only intro that would challenge many players using two hands). He is for my money (and a few other folks I’ll warrant) one of the most interesting and accomplished players on the scene at the moment.