Robert Mitchell’s Panacea The Cusp Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Acknowledges 70s soul as well as jazz, bringing a singular personality to the fore.

Kevin Le Gendre 2010

There are relatively few contemporary jazz groups with singers. And when that is the case, the vocalist is usually presented as a special guest, performing on a few tracks before departing to let the musicians get down to the serious business of improvising. British pianist Robert Mitchell’s outfit Panacea is thus something of a unique proposition as singer Deborah Jordan is by no means a perfunctory member of the group. She is an absolutely integral part of it.

Jordan appears on every piece on this, the band’s third release and follow-up to 2004’s Trust; and, to a great extent, her voice is the most important foil for the leader’s piano. Her melodies are characterised by the same blend of leaps through large intervals and fluttering but lyrical construction as his solos. She handles Mitchell’s demanding themes with aplomb, which really gives the whole ensemble a strong anchor around which the other elements revolve.

These include Tom Mason’s supple but sturdy bass, Shaney Forbes’ crisp, finely detailed drums and Hammadi Valdez’s flighty percussion, all of which combine in a complex rhythmic matrix that maintains a link to Steve Coleman’s vocabulary but really summarises Mitchell’s own imprimatur, something which is emphatically highlighted by a title-track that zig-zags from a Latin funk pulse to a vaguely house type groove on a coda enlivened by HKB Finn’s erudite poetry. Furthermore, the addition of Ben Davis’ cello and Julian Ferraretto’s violin is a really astute move of Mitchell’s, simply because his composing, right from his early days with the group J-Life, has always implied an orchestral quality that the strings make explicit.

These lush, felt-like unison lines and sharp, cutting pizzicato figures, sometimes skittering just behind the vocal, add rich timbral layers, and make the septet sound bigger than it is, a sleight of hand that great bandleaders from Charles Mingus to Henry Threadgill have also pulled off. Although they are inspirations, Mitchell has a different sound to them, one that acknowledges 70s soul as well as jazz, and brings a singular personality to the fore in the process.

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