One of the signs of a gig that’s a bit out of the ordinary is that something of what it felt like to be there, something of the mood and atmosphere of the music keeps returning afterwards. As I write this a couple of days after seeing this much heralded quintet, that’s certainly true. The interest and anticipation was widely shared – I’m not sure I’ve seen Hall2 quite this busy before. This visit was part of a short tour supported by Serious with the visit to Bristol orchestrated by Ian Storrer and Colston Hall (three cheers!); I’ve been wondering why Serious chose to promote the double bill – it was a delight, I’d have come along had it just been Robert Mitchell in truth – more of both would have been even better. They did provide a striking contrast. Maybe that was why.
Robert Mitchell’s trio are a challenging and absorbing listen. The tunes sound as if they are built around rhythmic ideas as much as melody and Mitchell’s improvising frequently deploys a two handed percussive approach whilst exploring quite abstract sounding harmony and scales. The pieces often started from simple melodic fragments so that as the trio reached a crescendo I often found myself wondering ‘how did we get here?!’ A fairly faithful rendering of Massive Attack’s Teardrop seemed entirely in keeping with the mood as the atmospheric ballad of the short set, with a haunting excursion into squeaky bowed harmonics from bass player Tom Mason. With frequently clubby percussive bursts from Richard Spavens on drums this band seem to blend jazz with those very hip urban clubby sounds and an almost austere abstract contemporary classical sound at times. As they took their bow I definitely wanted to hear more. The contrast with the Ambrose Akinmusire band was not extreme but they come from a different part of the current landscape.
Am I being fanciful here? This youthful band brought a whiff of New York with them. Somehow they seemed to be part of a feel and sound that comes from all the twist and turns of that scene over decades. Its summed up by an image for me, of Akinmusire standing at the side of the stage, eyes closed nodding approvingly and tapping along to a rhythmic pulse that none of the band are obviously playing. All seemed to be playing little bursts of notes and broken rhythms that added up to that pulse the leader was feeling – it was a surging swinging pulse as improvisations evolved from sinuous melodic themes, often introduced after solo or duo blast form trumpet with another member of the band. The pyrotechnics on trumpet, high notes, squeals, bends worked in the service of beautiful rich balladic melodies (Song to exhale to, Regret no More) or were more conventional flurries of notes over that surging pulse. The ebb and flow gave everyone a chance to show their colours, but the star billing of the leader aside, this felt like a band performance. They are something truly remarkable. This may not of been them at their best even, for at least two thirds of the set every movement seemed to set of a hum of feedback that clearly unsettled them. A real treat enjoyed and cheered to the rafters by the sizeable Colston Hall crowd enjoying an embarrassment of riches this month in Bristol.