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Roscoe Mitchell & The Sound Ensemble: Live At the Knitting Factory

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Album Review

This live set with his Sound Ensemble features several compositions and approaches that Roscoe Mitchell explored with some regularity in the late '80s. The dervish-like, circular breathing on soprano sax that was a central element of the album The Flow of Things from the prior year is heard again on "Almost Like Raindrops," though with less ferocity. In fact, much of this recording has a surprisingly laid-back feel. "Nonaah," which is often performed in an agitated frenzy, is cast in a dreamlike, floating space. Even the usual "free blowout" pieces like "The Reverend Frank Wright" lack the propulsive cohesiveness that the same band has displayed before. Some of this may be due to the rather boom-y sound quality that often relegates Barefield's guitar work and Shahid's bass to the background while bringing the drums to the fore. The same holds true for the oddly similar "You Changed the Texture on Me" that follows directly; on the one hand, it's a pleasure to hear Mitchell's imaginative and forceful alto playing (as well as some fine work by trumpeter Ragin), but there is little sense of the group dynamics that were paramount on records like Snerdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes. The odd inclusion of two excerpted solos and what appear to be two snatches of longer group improvs also heighten the aura of disjuncture. Humdrum Mitchell is still more exciting than a lot of the better offerings from his peers though, so fans of his will still want to hear this album. It's just a little disappointing after fine efforts like the aforementioned The Flow of Things.


Born: 03 August 1940 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Roscoe Mitchell is the rare jazz musician who also moves comfortably within the realm of contemporary classical music. It might even be said that Mitchell is a more convincing artist when working in European-influenced forms. When relying on structural and formal jazz conventions, Mitchell can often come off as stilted and unswinging. On the other hand, his forays into free-time, nontonal improvisation (both structured and unstructured) are as spontaneous and as emotionally satisfying as the best...
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Roscoe Mitchell & The Sound Ensemble: Live At the Knitting Factory, Roscoe Mitchell
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