When Tim Berne played Philadelphia in 2009, the opening act was Matt Mitchell, a then-obscure pianist who blew Berne away by performing an entire set of the saxophonist’s compositions for solo piano. Soon after that gig, Berne enlisted Mitchell for his band Snakeoil, a confident ensemble that has allowed Berne’s writing to become increasingly elliptical and combustible.
But Førage is almost nothing like Snakeoil, or any other Berne project. As in 2009, only with seven years of direct intimacy added, Mitchell is, as Berne puts it, “foraging through my music to find the pieces that felt best for exploring solo. … This is Matt’s vision seen through the prism of my compositions.” Responding to Berne’s love of his harmonic balladry, Mitchell slows down and opens up many of these pieces into lush mosaics, after having woodshedded on Bach and Chopin. There is an incisive, unpretentious grandeur here, especially on the longer songs, such as “Aas” and “Cloude,” that could be embraced as much by classical music fans as by Berne aficionados. But jazz gets its due too, both in the macro sense of an improvisatory melding of Berne and Mitchell, and in touchstones such as the abrupt, Monk-ian declamations in the intro to “Traces,” or the two-handed tension Mitchell builds on “Cerbs.”
Good luck to those chasing the DNA of these seven prismatic delicacies. “Cloude” intersects “Spare Parts” from the first Snakeoil album with “Thin Ice” from The Shell Game and adds Mitchell’s owns transitions and improvisational dressing. But as a diehard Berne fan, learning that from the production notes doesn’t materially add or subtract from my appreciation of the majestic whole. More relevant and penetrating is Berne’s profound endorsement of this uncharacteristically sublime endeavor. To best disseminate this music, Berne utilized his Screwgun label and called upon such longtime associates as producer David Torn and visual artist Stephen Byram. But make no mistake: This is a creative love affair between Berne and Mitchell, inspiring idiosyncratic, genuinely collaborative music that feels heaven-sent.