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Roscoe Mitchell and The Note Factory: Far Side

Charles Walker By

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In his recent book about the AACM, A Power Stronger Than Itself (University of Chicago, 2007), trombonist/composer/critic George Lewis makes a serious, thoroughly researched argument for its members creating their own lineage of American "experimental music," influenced as much by pan-African musics or juke joint jam sessions as by European high art music, and yet beholden to none of those idioms exclusively. As a result, for the critic or historian, it has always been difficult to even know how to talk about this stuff, to put it in its proper context, to appreciate it for what it is, rather than how it doesn't resemble jazz, or classical, or world music. Reed multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell was there at the beginning, and has been as subject to that confusion as any of his cohorts.

Which is why it's nice to know that, no matter how maligned or forgotten his legacy, he is still out there producing work full of surprise and serious intent. Caught live in early 2007, and surrounded by young luminaries including pianists Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn, and trumpeter Corey Wilkes, with Far Side, Mitchell presents a long, demanding hour of listening, the type of work that brings its greatest rewards through close attention. That's not to say it's quiet or subdued—the last half of the 30-minute opener, "Far Side/Cards/Far Side," is rambunctious, wily and wild—but that it focuses primarily on momentum through interaction, with sectional motifs rising and falling in an evolutionary way.

For example, there is that steamrolling second half of the album opener. Mitchell slithers, snake-like, on soprano over the double piano/double bass/double drum bed, an all-out assault that resembles nothing so much as the East Coast energy music against which the AACM was partly rebelling. Here, however, it serves as a wonderful release after the bowed, scraped, and breathy silences that gradually build towards it. There is nothing in the other three tracks that quite equal this tour de force, but they all blur the lines between composition and improvisation, soloist and group or stasis and momentum, in interesting ways.

This is fine American experimental music, a mature master of group dynamic leaving yet another testament to his consistency of purpose over the years. If you like Mitchell's thornier music, then you know more or less what to expect here, and it delivers in that everyone within the group is on their knottiest, most demanding behavior. If you are not familiar, this is as good a place as any to start: a group of young, energetic collaborators raised in an experimental sound-world Mitchell helped create, recorded in crystal-clear sound, and divided into four easy-to-digest tracks.

Track Listing: Far Side/Cards/Far Side; Quintet 2007 A For Eight; Trio Four For Eight; Ex Flover Five.

Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell: saxophones, flutes; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn; Craig Taborn: piano; Vijay Iyer: piano; Harrison Bankhead: double-bass, cello; Jaribu Shahid: double-bass; Tani Tabbal: drums; Vincent Davis: drums.

Title: Far Side | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: ECM Records


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