Roscoe Mitchell: Turn / Hamid Drake / Bindu; Rob Brown / Radiant Pools
The best American jazz artists have often had to look overseas for support. European labels have long proved to be reliable homes for adventurous music. From the looks of its first three releases, the French label Rogue Art might become another safe house.
The most exciting of the label's inaugural issues is a new title from Art Ensemble of Chicago founder Roscoe Mitchell. In itself that is always a notable event, but this new group (with Mitchell's longtime rhythm section Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabal on bass and drums along with new Art Ensemble trumpeter Corey Wilkes and the excellent young pianist Craig Taborn) stands among his greatest bands. They have all the role and bluster of Mitchell's Note Factory, but stripped down to an economic quintet. Across 14 quick tracks (five break the five-minute mark), they cover much of Mitchell's best improv settings, from jazz heads to percussion structures to horn drives and funky rhythms. The most striking thing here - as with recent Art Ensemble performances - is hearing Mitchell share the front line with a trumpeter so ready to deliver. The young man's gig filling Lester Bowie's shoes was a shock and in no way does he try to emulate the departed master, but he is clearly confident in the partnership. As a whole, the group is comfortable together, ready to let the compositions stand and while Shahid and Tabal haven't been the most exciting parts of Mitchell's groups, here they sound better than ever.
Drummer Hamid Drake has been a major voice in the generation of Chicagoans following the explosion of Mitchell and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. He's most known for a long association with saxophonist Fred Anderson and here makes his recording debut as a bandleader. He called together for the session a quartet of New York and Chicago saxophonists (Daniel Carter, Ernest Dawkins, Sabir Mateen and Greg Ward) and added the great young flutist Nicole Mitchell. The tracks vary from Drake solo (with Afro-esque vocals) to charted vamps and free blows with the horns. The standout, though, is a 14-minute duet with Mitchell, the rare flautist inventive enough to carry such an extended percussion piece. Drake excels especially on the frame drum, as is well evidenced here.
New York saxophonist Rob Brown's strongest work has been as a sideman (he's on heavy rotation in William Parker's bands) and in the group he co-led with Joe Morris. But if he's been slower to come into his own as a leader, Radiant Pools shows a promise for more. With Morris on bass, Steve Swell on trombone and Luther Gray behind the drums, the group wisely takes its time, letting the pieces unfold, often for close to ten minutes. Swell is as always a phenom and while Morris' bass playing continues to be second fiddle to his great, innovative guitar work, he comes off as more relaxed and on target here. Gray - who has been playing with Morris in recent years - is slow yet strong, a perfect backing for the group.
Rogue Art so far seems to be doing everything right: striking, uniform packaging, hometown recordings and overall excellent sequencing, making all three albums flow beautifully despite the length of the pieces. Unfortunately - as is so often the case with French labels - distribution is shaky in the States. Each is worth a quick grab if stumbled upon.
Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell; Corey Wilkes; Craig Taborn; Jaribu Shahid; Tani Tabbal
Personnel: Hamid Drake; Daniel Carter; Ernest Dawkins; Sabir Mateen Greg Ward; Nicole Mitchell
Personnel: Rob Brown; Steve Swell; Joe Morris; Luther Gray