Roscoe Mitchell Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Roscoe Mitchell Quartet

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Now that the Art Ensemble of Chicago has disbanded, the world has little choice but to heed the individual offerings of its former members. In the case of Roscoe Mitchell--who 30 years ago founded the quartet that evolved into the Art Ensemble--the opportunities have been plenty, thanks to the startling array of solo and group projects he has led over the years. Trumpeter Lester Bowie wore the lab coat at Art Ensemble performances, but his coconspirator Mitchell was (and remains) the true scientist: in the 1970s, Mitchell undertook a systematic study of the saxophone's secrets, charting the vagaries of overtones and false fingerings and the limits of breath control and technical abstraction--a process that he documented on a piece called "S II Examples" and that has informed all his performances on saxophones ranging from baritone to sopranino. This weekend offers a rare appearance by his quartet: Detroit drummer Gerald Cleaver, Art Ensemble cohort Malachi Favors on bass, and pianist Jodie Christian (like Mitchell a cofounder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). I'd imagine the music will bear some resemblance to that heard on Mitchell's 1995 Delmark date Hey Donald, which also starred Christian and Favors--which is to say, it runs the gamut from tonal-jazz compositions to demanding and brilliant free-jazz montages. The relatively "straight-ahead" tunes feature nursery-rhyme melodies played in broad-swath tones and solos that recall the purposeful simplicity of Thelonious Monk and Steve Lacy. But even his wildest solos--the ones that culminate in furiously spinning lines, untethered to chords or any vestige of conventional syntax--spring from sound musical principles. Such music has placed him in an exalted position among saxists practicing free improvisation and extended technique. Patron saints aren't supposed to sound quite so fresh or alive--but then this guy's been breaking rules for decades. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by Marc PoKempner.

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