Machado Mijiga works in the in-betweens on his new album, Gradient, coloring with broad sonic strokes over a palette of rhythm. The Portland multi-instrumentalist and composer has been known to work across the spectrum of genres, settling where jazz meets hip-hop, and Gradient sits within that framework, though it undoubtedly faces towards the jazz side with its sensibilities. On Mijiga’s 2020 album, Journal, he played all the instruments except the drums, so it’s only natural that on Gradient, he inverts the structure, playing only drums, accompanied a series of Portland’s most talented musicians to fill out the rest of the band.
The songs ebb and flow in the liquid structure of jazz, but throughout the project it’s clear that the group’s leader is the drummer. The songs seem constructed to shift the focus of the listener onto the rhythmic variations, and the transitions in and out of various feels, instead of on a single lead performer. For the most part, the other instrumentation provides loose atmospheric chords, though “21cc” and “Adversary” feature trumpet work from Justin Copeland and Noah Simpson, respectively, both of whom play off the directives of Mijiga’s percussion.
At its best, Gradient works in the subtle changes to its atmospheric elements, which provide a kind of loose narrative arc to each song. About ⅔ of the way through the title track, “Gradient,” the effects come in on the keys, adding layers of dissonance to what was at first controlled, and a mild unease sets in as the greens begin to shift into blues. Often instrumental music like this serves less as an external voice or narrative, and more of a backdrop and structure that allows the listener to think along lines of flight provided by the music, untainted by any kind of lyric or even melodic input. Gradient is music to think to, and is best enjoyed as such.
In true jazz fashion, the eleven tracks stretch a full 78 minutes, and though asking listeners to sit with an hour-plus collection of instrumental music is becoming less and less common, Mijiga has the confidence to do so, and Gradient remains fresh, going places that reward the attention paid with new spaces in between the old ones, made from color and sound.