Saturday, July 08, 2017

Roscoe Mitchell - Bells for the South Side (ECM, 2017)

Multi-instrumentalist, composer and improviser Roscoe Mitchell uses the distinctive characteristics of several of his groups in this large ensemble recording that was made at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, during the 50th anniversary celebration for the AACM in 2015. The music is a summation of the amazing impact that Roscoe Mitchell has had on modern music, both as a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and his many solo recordings and collaborations. This double album opens with “Spatial Aspects of the Sound," which develops an interesting soundscape with piano, flute and chimes that grows into the track "Panoply" that has choppy percussion opening space for reed and brass with their bleats and squeals building into a epic crushing improvisation of saxophone and drums. "Prelude To A Rose" has horns progressing a melancholy fanfare which twists and tugs against itself, building tension and textures with different hued saxophone juxtaposed against one another. Gentle chimes in open space ushers in "Dancing In The Canyon" with light and nimble percussion and keyboard contributing a very mysterious feel to the music before erupting into another excellent saxophone and drums blowout that just raises the roof. This is contrasted by the dark and moody atmosphere of "EP 7849," where vocalized sounds create an eerie sound that the rumbling drums and keyboard drive into cinematic territory. The title track "Bells For The South Side" opens appropriately as bells sound an alarm followed by a siren that really grabs your attention. Emotive trumpet arcs across the musical landscape framed by bells and long tones of saxophone, played in a haunted and hymn-like manner. Disc two begins with the epic "Prelude To The Card Game, Cards For Drums, And The Final Hand" where bowed bass and strident saxophone create a deep seated groove for the music that opens to a long and very impressive drum solo which is the hallmark of the piece. "The Last Chord" has crystalline piano building a spare structure, as the drums enter and for a skittish counter-movement. The sound builds architecturally, intensifying with the entry of a horn, and another ripe drum feature. More long tones of saxophone open "Six Gongs And Two Woodblocks" with Mitchell's tart saxophone darting and weaving, building a mystic and spiritual vibe as the percussion evolves accordingly. The massive medley "Red Moon In The Sky / Odwalla" ends the album on a rousing note with the band probing the silence of open space before developing swathes of color. Choppy percussion rattles and clanks as the horns build in and develop a harrowing collective improvisation that brings all of the energy of the band to a fever pitch. Just when it seems about to crack under the weight of the scalding forces at play, the music breaks like a wave coming ashore, opening up with melodic piano accompanied by stoically riffing horns and scattered percussion. This was an extraordinary piece of work, one that sees Mitchell reflecting on his own history while looking toward the future, which is very bright indeed. Bells For The South Side -

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