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Mitchell, Matt : Phalanx Ambassadors (Pi Recordings)

The sophisticated compositions of New York pianist Matt Mitchell on piano, also performing on synthesizer, are heard in this quintet with Miles Okazaki on electric & acoustic guitars, Patricia Brennan on vibraphone & marimba, Kim Cass on bass, and Kate Gentile on drums & percussion, a challenging album that rewards through intensity and incredible detail.

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product information:

UPC: 808713008128

Label: Pi Recordings
Catalog ID: Pi 81
Squidco Product Code: 27534

Format: CD
Condition: New
Released: 2019
Country: USA
Packaging: Cardboard Gatefold
Recorded at The Clubhouse, Rhinebeck, New York, on December 13th and 14th, 2018, by Daniel Goodwin.


Matt Mitchell-piano, synthesizers

Miles Okazaki-electric guitar, acoustic guitar

Patricia Brennan-vibraphone, marimba

Kim Cass-acoustic bass, electric bass

Kate Gentile-drums, percussion

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Artist Biographies:

"Matt Mitchell is a pianist and composer interested in the intersections of various strains of acoustic, electric, composed, and improvised new music. He currently composes for and leads several ensembles featuring many of the current foremost musicians and improvisers, including Tim Berne, Kim Cass, Caroline Davis, Kate Gentile, Ben Gerstein, Sylvaine Hélary, Jon Irabagon, Travis Laplante, Ava Mendoza, Miles Okazaki, Ches Smith, Chris Speed, Tyshawn Sorey, Chris Tordini, Anna Webber, Dan Weiss, and Katie Young.

He is an anchor member of several significant creative music ensembles which integrate composed and improvised music, including Tim Berne's Snakeoil, the Dave Douglas Quintet, John Hollenbeck's Large Ensemble, Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bird Calls, Jonathan Finlayson's Sicilian Defense, Dan Weiss's Large Ensemble, Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse, the Darius Jones Quartet, Kate Gentile's Mannequins, Mario Pavone's Blue Dialect Trio, Anna Webber's Simple Trio, Ches Smith's We All Break, Michael Attias' Spun Tree, Ohad Talmor's Grand Ensemble, and Quinsin Nachoff's Flux. He is also among the core performers of John Zorn's Bagatelles.

Musicians with whom he performs and has performed include Jon Irabagon, Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth, John Hollenbeck's Claudia Quintet + 1, JD Allen, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Bunky Green's Apex, Rez Abbasi's Invocation, Lee Konitz, Kenny Wheeler, Ralph Alessi's Baida Quartet, Dave King's Indelicate duo, Amir ElSaffar, Marc Ducret, David Torn, Vernon Reid, Clarence Penn and Penn Station, Linda Oh, Rudy Royston, Allison Miller, Donny McCaslin, Brad Shepik, and Darcy James Argue's Secret Society.

He has taught extensively with the Brooklyn-based School for Improvisational Music, as well as at the New School, NYU, and the Siena Jazz Workshop. He is also a 2015 receipient of a Doris Duke Impact Award and a 2012 recipient of a Pew Fellowship from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage."

-Matt Mitchell Website (

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"Miles Okazaki is an American musician based in New York City. He is known for his technical command of the guitar, his rhythmic approach to improvisation and composition, and his work in contemporary music theory. Okazaki grew up in Port Townsend, Washington, a small town near the Olympic Mountains in the Pacific Northwest. He got his first classical guitar at age 6, and began playing regular gigs on electric guitar by age 14, after studying for several years at the Centrum Jazz Workshop. He received many awards as a guitarist throughout his early years, and eventually placed 2nd in the Thelonious Monk International Guitar Competition.

Okazaki moved to New York City in 1997 to pursue a career in music and begin writing his own material. His teacher on guitar at this time was Rodney Jones, who recommended him for his first gig, with Stanley Turrentine. Okazaki spent four years on the road with vocalist Jane Monheit, while also writing and rehearsing the music for his first album, Mirror, which was released independently. The album received a "Critics Pick" in the New York Times, calling it "a work of sustained collectivity as well as deep intricacy." He expanded to a septet for his second album, Generations, described by pianist Vijay Iyer "the sonic equivalent of Escher or Borges, but with real emotional heft,". His third album, Figurations, was recorded live with a quartet, and was selected as one of the New York Times top ten albums of 2012, described by Ben Ratliff as "slowly evolving puzzles of brilliant jazz logic." In January of 2016 Okazaki recorded a new album, Trickster, that will be released later this year. Okazaki wrote, produced, and illustrated these albums.

As a sideman, Okazaki works in many areas, ranging from Standard repertoire to experimental music. Recently he has been seen most frequently as the guitarist for Steve Coleman and Five Elements. In the last few years, he has worked with a wide variety of artists including Kenny Barron, Jonathan Finlayson, Amir El Saffar, Adam Rudolph, Dan Weiss, Linda Oh, Darcy James Argue, Jane Monheit, Vijay Iyer, Francois Moutin, Doug Hammond, Carl Allen, Ohad Talmor, Mary Halvorson, John Zorn, Jen Shyu, Mark Giuliana, Patrick Cornelius, Rajna Swaminatham, Matt Mitchell, Craig Taborn, Tony Moreno, Ben Wendel, Donny McCaslin, and many others.

Okazaki currently teaches guitar at the University of Michigan. His first book, Fundamentals of Guitar, was released in 2015. He has also taught at the Banff Institute, The New School, Queens College, The Juilliard School, Amsterdam Conservatory, and many other institutions. Outside of guitar, his past teachers include Anthony Davis (composition), Ganesh Kumar (Carnatic percussion), and Kendall Briggs (counterpoint). His awards and grants include Chamber Music America's "New Works" (2007), Chamber Music America's "French-American Jazz Exchange" (2009), the Jazz Gallery and Jerome Foundations Residency Commission (2010), the American Music Center's Composer Assistance Program (2011), the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation's US Artists International grant (2012), the Rockefeller Brother's Fund Artist Residency (2012), and the Jazz Gallery Mentorship program (2015). He holds degrees from Harvard University, Manhattan School of Music, and The Juilliard School, and lives in Brooklyn, NY."

-Miles Okazaki Website (

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"Mexican born vibraphonist, marimbist and composer Patricia Brennan has been always surrounded by music. She inherited a deep love and appreciation for musical tradition from both parents, as well as being exposed to the musical richness of her native Port of Veracruz. She started studying music at 4 years old, playing latin percussion along salsa records with her father and listening to Jimmy Hendrix and Led Zeppelin records with her mother. Also, around the same age, she started playing piano, influenced by her grandmother who was a concert pianist.

At the age of 17, Patricia was selected from musicians all over the Americas to be part of the Youth Orchestra of the Americas. During this time, she toured every country in the Americas and performed with renowned musicians such as Yo-Yo Ma and Paquito D'Rivera. Before moving to the U. S., Patricia was already performing with the top symphony orchestras in Mexico, such as Xalapa Symphony Orchestra and Mineria Symphony Orchestra. Also, she had already won several awards on marimba competitions and young artist competitions in Mexico and abroad. She was accepted at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where she was able to perform alongside high caliber musicians from all over the world and conductors such as Simon Rattle and Charles Dutoit. She also performed with the prestigious Philadelphia Orchestra and other acclaimed new music groups such as members from Eight Blackbird.

Patricia's search for freedom in her musical expression led her to find her voice through the vibraphone and mallet percussion in improvisational music and composition.

Currently, Patricia is a member of Grammy nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble and Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus. She is also a member of Blind Spot with Teju Cole, a project led by renowned pianist Vijay Iyer along with bassist Linda Oh and writer Teju Cole. She has also collaborated with Vijay Iyer in other projects, including the large ensemble project Open City and several small ensemble performances along with renowned musicians like bassist Reggie Workman and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. She is also a member of Phalanx Ambassadors, a project led by pianist Matt Mitchell, and she is also a member of Tomas Fujiwara's 7 Poets Trio along with cellist and composer Tomeka Reid. Among Patricia's own projects include the newly recorded solo project Kaleidoscope and MOCH.

Patricia has performed with many renown musicians including singer and composer Meredith Monk and Theo Bleckmann, saxophonists Jon Irabagon and Scott Robinson, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, drummer Marcus Gilmore, guitarist Mary Halvorson and many others. She has performed in venues such as Newport Jazz Festival, SF JAZZ, and Carnegie Hall, as well as international venues such as Wiener Konzerthaus in Vienna, Austria, Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She has also appeared on National Television and Public Radio several times.

Patricia has appeared on several recordings, including an ECM recording with Michael Formanek Ensemble Kolossus called "The Distance" and Matt Mitchell's featured recordings "A Pouting Grimace" and "Phalanx Ambassadors" under Pi Recordings. Also, Patricia recorded a new record with the Grammy nominated John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble called "All Can Work" which was released in January 2018 under New Amsterdam Records. Patricia will be releasing her debut solo album "Kaleidoscope" in 2019."

-Patricia Brennan Website (

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"Bassist Kim Cass is from an island off the coast of Maine, where he was introduced to bass playing at age 10. He quickly developed a unique style on the electric bass and began playing the upright bass at age 13. Developing this instrument in a jazz context became Kim's passion, as well as composing music featuring his upright playing.

When studying at the New England Conservatory of Music, Cass received personalized instruction from several virtuoso musicians including George Garzone, Ran Blake, Joe Morris and Joe Maneri. Cass currently resides in New York City. He has been featured in a wide variety of ensembles, executing music that is ever challenging and beautifully mysterious. Cass has performed with the likes of Matt Mitchell, Tyshawn Sorey, John Zorn and Bill McHenry. The solo album KIM CASS, released on Table and Chairs, is a showcase of Kim's upright bass playing and compositions. He is currently composing and practicing material for his next recording project, scheduled for 2018."

-Miller Theatre (

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"Kate Gentile is a Brooklyn-based drummer and composer interested in forward-thinking creative music, including the synthesis of elements from many kinds of music.

In addition to her quartet with Jeremy Viner, Matt Mitchell and Adam Hopkins on her debut album Mannequins (June 2017, Skirl Records), other projects Kate is a part of include Snark Horse, in which she co-leads and shares compositional duties with pianist Matt Mitchell; Mitchell's projects Phalanx Ambassadors and A Pouting Grimace, Dustin Carlson's septet Air Ceremony, and Davy Lazar's trumpet/drums duo Pluto's Lawyer.

Kate has also worked with Michael Attias, Tim Berne, Anthony Braxton, Cloud Becomes Your Hand, Marty Ehrlich, Michael Formanek, God Is My Co-Pilot, Helado Negro, Chris Speed, Anna Webber, and John Zorn."

-Kate Gentile Website (

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track listing:

1. Stretch Goal 6:25

2. Taut Pry 1:45

3. Zoom Romp 1:26

4. Phasic Haze Ramps 15:53

5. S S G G 5:00

6. Be Irreparable 5:43

7. Mind Aortal Cicatrix 9:24
sample the album:

descriptions, reviews, &c.

"Phalanx Ambassadors is the latest release from pianist/keyboardist/composer Matt Mitchell, whom Will Layman in PopMatters calls "the most complete and well-integrated improvising pianist of the last 15 years." He also called his prior release, A Pouting Grimace (Pi 2017), "brilliant and varied... animated by breathtaking compositional imagination and startling arrangements."Phalanx Ambassadorssimilarly features works that burst forth with intricate detail, featuring precise execution of multi-layered rhythmic material, adventurous harmonic exploration and otherworldly melodies. While rigorously structured, the music also leaves ample room for intertwining improvisation.

If Pi Recordingshas a "house pianist," Mitchell would be it. Not only is this his fourth release as a leader for the label, he's also appeared on seven other critically-acclaimed Pi releases from Steve Coleman, Dan Weiss, Jonathan Finlayson and Anna Webber, not to mention his work with the likes of Tim Berne, Dave Douglas, John Hollenbeck, John Zorn, and Linda May Han Oh, among many others. The reasons are obvious: Mitchell is almost uniquely capable of tackling such a huge range of musical material. Indeed, it seems as if he thrives on fresh challenges, both from other musicians, but especially of his own device.

Phalanx Ambassadorsis no exception. As guitarist Miles Okazaki said: "With Matt's music there is just an incredible shitload of information. It seemed to be an endlessly branching decision tree, where any momentary lapse of concentration would just leave you lost in the wilderness. Anyone who's seen Matt play can relate how he seems to have trained himself to reach and maintain extreme levels of focus, navigating multiple streams of information that would clog the synapses of two or three competent players." Mitchell called this "pretty definitively the most challenging music I've ever written for a band, ever," which given his prior output, is saying a lot. Nevertheless, the music retains its melodicism, with episodes of shimmering finery and swinging, albeit sometimes off-kilter, grooves. Pianist Cory Smythe, a long-time admirer who is best known as the pianist for the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) and collaborations with drummer Tyshawn Sorey said of the music: "How is he managing to make so much dissonance - harmonic and rhythmic - gleam? His pieces all seem to set out to accomplish something by way of an almost cartoonish (in the best, most fanciful, clangorous way) profusion of parts, gears, levers. It comes at you like paragraphs of musical information all leading, ultimately, to a kind of epiphanic conclusion."

The eponymously-named band - with Mitchell on piano and keyboards, Okazaki on guitars, Patricia Brennanon vibraphone and marimba, Kim Casson bass, and Kate Gentileon drums - rehearsed for eight months in advance of their first performance in 2016, evidence not just of the music's difficulty, but of the shared commitment to this music from each of the band's members. Along with producer David Torn, the musicians descend into the maelstrom that is Mitchell's idiosyncratic sound world, creating music that eludes all genre boundaries and conventions."-Pi Recordings

"Stretch Goals

In 2011, a conversation with my brother Andrew centered around the term "stretch goal" as a term from the business world. Despite the apparent utility of the word in that world, we found it to be hilarious and naturally I titled the piece I was working on at the time thusly. And, as so often happens with such small moves, I decided it was useful and it became part of the ethos of a group of pieces. The nature of the piece, now the first piece on this album, is indeed such that the melody involves stretches of various sorts in the extreme in order to play correctly on any instrument, and in turn the learning of the piece itself at the proper tempo until recently indeed comprised a stretch goal: an extremely difficult task with a long arc towards completion often requiring on some level a thorough assessment of one's own abilities.

Pushing one's own technical limits on an instrument can be part of a musical stretch goal, as it indeed has been for hundreds of years. Pianists contend with Beethoven's Hammerklavierand Xenakis's Evryali; improvisers have Tatum, Coltrane, and Holdsworth as forebears. The pieces on this record indeed require virtuosos to execute, and verily this band has them in the presences of Miles Okazaki, Patricia Brennan, Kim Cass, and Kate Gentile. Individual parts aside, these pieces are band stretch goals. The melodic/contrapuntal, textural, and rhythmic tasks that the ensemble must tackle as a unit are a huge part of why the premiere in 2016 came two years after the completion of the seventh and final piece of the set, and why I chose to wait until December 2018 to record the music - in other words, after I composed and recorded A Pouting Grimace. This takes time and extreme dedication on everyone's part, both individually and collectively, to a degree that is extremely rare to find.

The stretch goal aspect of learning these pieces is actually secondary to the goal of writing unencumbered by real world expectation and limitation. Feeling free to construct music out of time and space and then worrying later about the "how." There is indeed joy in the construction, the nuts and bolts of how all seven pieces are related in macro and micro ways: the interrelated rhythmic approaches within a common length of 396 beats for each piece, the anagramming and encoding of pitch material, the relationships between events, and counterpoint. But this is all means to an end, as it always is for me, with the goal being to access and occupy heretofore un-accessed spaces, both within the composed corners of the pieces and the terrain yet to be mapped and remapped via improvisation, ideally redefining and reframing familiar spaces and creating new ones each with each listen and performance.

Incorporating improvising in the pieces was another set of problems to solve, usually dictated by the pieces themselves. You have the "opening credits" - thank you Miles, for the observation - of stretch goal, exploding out of the gate with a drum solo and moving backwards through the customary order of appearances; the collective five-way digressions and glosses interrupting the extended band counterpoint on phasic haze ramps; the marimba, Mellotron, and fuzz guitar doppelgängers to the vibes, piano, and guitar solos on mind aortal cicatrix. Other flavors include the dual percussion tracks, semi-freestyle guitar harmonics and vibes coloration on ssgg, and the opening drum set improvisation and closing additive layered Prophet-6 solos on be irreparable. The music of Phalanx Ambassadors represents an apex for me in all these respects. One musical project necessarily informs the next one, and with this music I strove to remove all constraints to the extent it made sense to me, and also in many ways it didn't make sense, until it did. And that is one recurrent goal for me in creating music such as this: to try and make something that will continually and variably make sense, even as it sometimes doesn't until it does. I think that has happened with Phalanx Ambassadors."-Matt Mitchell, April 2019

Related Categories of Interest:

Pi Records

Improvised Music
Free Improvisation
NY Downtown & Metropolitan Jazz/Improv
Quintet Recordings
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