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For what it is, this second recording by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet may be exceedingly well done. The challenge lies in trying to figure out exactly what it is. Some random parts — most notably the breezy title selection, which showcases Mitchell’s brawny tenor — are recognizably Jazz as we know it; others appear to be tone poems whose bond to conventional Jazz (that is, improvised music that swings) seems tenuous at best. Examples of this include “Offshore,” “Squeaky,” “Fly Over” and “Opposite Sides.” Somewhere closer to the Jazz axis (but still in an eccentric orbit of their own) are “The Le Dreher Suite,” “Three Sides of a Story” and “Till Autumn” (which actually has a discernible melody, and on which Mitchell unmasks a more conventional — and agreeable —alto). Mitchell’s broad–based design is known as “free” or avant–garde Jazz, and for those who prefer it this may be meat and potatoes. To me, it’s more like tofu and broccoli. Sorry, guys, but I just can’t seem to see where you’re going with this music. “Offshore” sounds as it was intended, like a wharf at eventide (complete with foghorn, ship's bells and other seaside sound effects), but that’s as far as it goes. “Squeaky” is well–named too, with Mitchell’s straight soprano exploring the horn’s upper reaches, and sounding at times like an auto’s horn, but that’s about all there is to that. “Fly Over,” which apparently is supposed to simulate the sounds of a plane landing (via Heath’s droning didgeridoo), never really takes off in spite of everyone’s assiduous navigation, while “Opposite Sides,” on which the leader dubbed the bass recorder “blind” over the baroque flute, lurches stolidly from one to the other without much apparent purpose — something that could be said, I suppose, for most of the selections on this date. On the other hand, that’s only my opinion, and should be taken as such. Those who admire the AACM, the Art Ensemble of Chicago and other such idiosyncratic offshoots of more traditional Jazz will, I am sure, find in Buckner a veritable gold mine of musical treasures. I’m not one of them, but that’s what makes the world go ’round.
Track listing: Off Shore; In Walked Buckner; Squeaky; The Le Dreher Suite; Three Sides of a Story; Till Autumn; Fly Over; Opposite Sides (64:46).
Roscoe Mitchell, piccolo flute, baroque flute, bass recorder, clarinet, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, small bells and whistles; Jodie Christian, piano, small bells; Reggie Workman, bass, small percussion, whistle; Albert