Roscoe Mitchell Keeps Pushing



Roscoe Mitchell
  • Roscoe Mitchell
This week's Reader includes a Bill Meyer Critic's Choice for Saturday afternoon's concert by Mike Reed's Loose Assembly, who'll be joined for the occasion by reedist Roscoe Mitchell. The AACM veteran appears on the quintet's new album, Empathetic Parts (482 Music), for which I wrote the liner notes, and he exerts a strong, simpatico presence. But on Far Side (ECM), a terrific new album with his long-running, ever-changing Note Factory project, Mitchell doesn't employ this virtuoso mode—his playing is just as engaged, but he gears it more toward an ensemble approach.

A big chunk of the 30-minute opening piece, "Far Side/Cards/Far Side," is a kind of massed rustling, a dense and shimmery sonic fabric that retains an impressive transparency despite the group's size—it's an eight-piece, with Mitchell joined by Chicago trumpeter Corey Wilkes and pairs of pianists (Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn), bassists (Harrison Bankhead and Jaribu Shahid), and drummers (Tani Tabbal and Vincent Davis). The ensemble eventually ramps up into some high-level free jazz, where Mitchell's snaking soprano saxophone bares it teeth, but to my ears the highlight of the piece is the meticulous and finely wrought give and take that precedes the raucous energy music—Mitchell has excelled at this sort of thing for decades. Among the early members of the AACM, only Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill have remained as dedicated as Mitchell to pushing forward, working with new folks, and maintaining artistic rigor.

Even more satisfying is the next piece, "Quintet 2007 A for Eight," which spreads out from a jagged but carefully charted theme into overlapping, interactive snippets of oblique melody, a kind of round-robin exercise that requires the players to be at their most alert and empathetic. (You can check it out below.) "Trio Four For Eight" pushes toward brooding contemporary-classical sonorities and chamber-music dynamics, and the closing “Ex Flover Five” returns to roiling free jazz.

Mitchell leads a promising group of Chicago musicians tonight in a performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art that's part of the three-day Creative Music Summit, a joint celebration of anniversaries of the AACM (its 45th) and the Asian American Jazz Festival (its 15th). Called New Experiments, the quintet features Bankhead, cellist Tomeka Reid and drummer Mike Reed (both from Loose Assembly), and flutist Nicole Mitchell. Also on the bill is Brass Epiphany, a large ensemble led by violinist and violist Renee Baker.

Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory: "Quintet 2007 A for Eight":

photo: Elvira Faltermeier / ECM Records

Today's playlist:

Dara Puspita, 1966-1968 (Sublime Frequencies)
Svein Finnerud Trio, Preachers: The Unreleased Works 1969-1980 (Plastic Strip Press)
Willie Nelson, Stardust (Columbia/Legacy)
The United States of America, The United States of America (Sundazed)
Terry Riley, Reed Streams (Cortical Foundation)

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