Robert Mitchell ‘A Vigil for Justice. A Vigil For Peace’ (Depth of Field) 5/5

Pianist/composer Robert Mitchell has produced one of his finest albums to date with the release of “A vigil for justice, a vigil for peace”. Having emerged as a musician with much promise through his involvement with Tomorrow’s Warriors, he has gone on to work with Courtney Pine, Steve Coleman, Iain Bellamy, Norma Winstone, Greg Osby, and Omar Puente among others, developing a formidable reputation along the way as a gifted pianist and composer.

It is fair to say that Mitchell has long since found his voice, but on this stunning release one can’t help thinking there is a fresh and inspiring clarity to that voice, the music and poetry being both poignant and pertinent to the times in which we live. The trio of Mitchell at the piano, Tom Mason on bass and Laurie Lowe on drums, sparkle with a life-affirming effervescence. The eight tunes presented here showcase the trio at the very top of their game, with Mitchell charting a course that takes the listener on a voyage of discovery, in both musical and literary terms.

The music is interspersed with Mitchell’s original poetry. There are seven poems, narrated by Thami Hlabangana and HKB Finn. The poetry is not only inspired by the challenges we face as a nation that has somewhat lost its way, but also as human beings and our need to question and examine our relationships, from within ourselves and outwardly looking and searching, on a humane level, asking how we view and interact with others, and challenging how we all have so much untapped potential that could bring about change in a positive and peaceful way. Mitchell’s words are provocative yet contemplative; reflecting a troubled political climate and an uncertainty that lies beneath the surface of most people’s lives.

On first listen I wasn’t too sure as to how well the spoken word sat alongside the music. But the more I listened, the more I realised that the words and music, viewed as a whole, are indeed as important as each other. There is a connectedness, an interactive involvement that brings two art forms together in a cohesive and creative way.

Mitchell draws influence from many musical styles in his playing; jazz, latin, funk, blues, classical… all components that go towards making the pianist what he is; a truly original virtuoso. Melodies are often pushed towards surprising destinations, versatile styles weave patterns of magic that enliven and delight, his controlled virtuosity singing songs within songs, portraying thoughts within thoughts and summoning light from dark, a rainbow of colour washing away grey clouds. There is hope within his voice. An acknowledgment of difficulty met head on in a confident, compassionate and ultimately uplifting way.

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of 2017, this is an album that has so much going for it that it really is a “must-have” for any jazz enthusiast’s collection.

Mike Gates