JJ 11/92: Mitchel Forman – What Else?

Thirty years ago David Badham found himself discomfited by a favourite's resort to funky drumming and irritating synth noises. First published Jazz Journal November 1992

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I greatly admired Forman’s play­ing and compositional contri­bution to Gerry Mulligan’s superb 1980 big band issue Walk On The Water. Here, while his piano play­ing is absorbing, intense and at times really exciting, the overall compositional ambience in which it is set tends to stray rather too far from what I regard as the true jazz field.

Chiefly to blame is the rock-inspired and/or funky beat drum­ming of Terri Lyne Carrington; only on Near Miss did she provide anywhere near normal jazz drum­ming, and while a funky, broken rhythm can provide a bit of con­trast in very small doses, relent­lessly ground out as it is here, it turns me right off.

Then there are the vocals by Mitchel and Terri; these amount to high pitched aah-aah-aahing rather than scat sing­ing on the beat and I found this off-putting rather than effective (eg Mr Smarty Pants). His use of synthesizers, as he puts it ‘. . . just for color . . .’, I also found dis­tracted from his piano playing rather than augmenting it, and I particularly found the weird noises on We Start Again an irritant.

However, there are compensa­tions. Bill Evans’s four alto sax contributions made one wish for more; on The Alley and What Else? his ethereal tone owes much to Paul Desmond and is none the worse for that, while on P.D. it combined well with the syn­thesizers to give, for once, an effective out-of-this-world tone colouring.

And Forman’s piano style really is well worth listening to – he does play a lot of piano as they say, with his solos on Wayne Shorter’s Beauty And The Beast, The Alley and Near Miss particu­larly attractive. I just wish I could have listened to him without all the trappings, and possibly on a few standards as well. (All the other compositions are by him.)

I remain a big fan of his as a pianist if not of his overall taste as a record producer – fans of the sort of stuff played by such as Al Jarreau and Chick Corea in his most modernist mood just might go for it in a bigger way however! Try it first is my advice; the title track would be as good as any.

Discography
What Else?*; Mr Smarty Pants; The End Of The Tunnel; Just Ideas*; Beauty And The Beast; Gorgeous; P.O.*; Near Miss; We Start Again; The Alley*; One Design (55.13)
Mitchel Forman (p/syn/v); John Patitucci (b/ elb); Terri Lyne Carrington (d); on tracks* only, Bill Evans (as). LA, September 1991.
(Novus PD 90664)