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Album Review

This quartet was a one-time deal for Mitchell, featuring Spencer Barefield on guitar (who would later affix an "A." to his name and be involved in several future Mitchell projects), pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and the young trombonist George Lewis (making his first recorded appearance). The range of works is varied, though the opening cut, "Tnoona," is the standout: a wonderfully rich and brooding piece, maintaining a steady state that verges on a drone and compares favorably with somewhat similar investigations by groups like AMM. It had previously appeared, with an added sledgehammer ending, on the Art Ensemble of Chicago's brilliant album, Fanfare for the Warriors. The ensuing soprano/trombone duo is much more abstract in an academic sort of way and, though credited to Lewis, nods toward one of the directions Mitchell would pursue in coming years: a slightly dry, conversational approach to improvising that tended to succeed only when the instrumentalists involved had something of dire urgency to say. Here, the results are mixed, the colloquy lagging, though Lewis' almost preternatural ability on his axe is already clearly in evidence. "Cards" explores similar territory with the full quartet to better effect, with someone (Barefield?) wielding a power drill partway through! Though written by Mitchell, the closing "Olobo" is performed as a trombone solo by Lewis, who demonstrates a virtual blizzard of extended techniques, including flurries of breath tones and whispering sounds — quite impressive for the trombonist, who was only 22 years old at the time. Finally released on disc in 2001, Roscoe Mitchell Quartet is a long-neglected minor classic and well worth hearing.


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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Quartet (Live), Roscoe Mitchell
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