CD REVIEW: Roscoe Mitchell – Bells For The South Side

Roscoe Mitchell – Bells For The South Side
(ECM 571 1952. CD review by Olie Brice)

With some great artists, the release of a new album requires serious investigation – not just for the sheer joy of listening but for an insight into the ‘state of the art’, where the music is going and what new routes are being explored. For me, Roscoe Mitchell is on a very short list of these living giants of the music – Wadada Leo Smith is another who springs to mind. The trouble with combining this sort of serious listening and trying to write reviews is that a review should be published while the release is recent, whereas a landmark recording of the stature of this new Roscoe Mitchell album will take me years to absorb.

Bells For The South Side is a two-CD recording of music which Roscoe Mitchell presented at a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the AACM, at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. The album brings together four trios – with Craig Taborn and Kikanju Baku, with Tani Tabbal and Jaribu Shahid, with William Winant and James Fei, and with Tyshawn Sorey & Hugh Ragin.

The musicians are also presented in other combinations, and as they are all multi-instrumentalists a huge palette of combinations is available to Mitchell. The liner notes don’t always make it clear who is playing on which pieces, and the variety of instrumentation means that it often can’t be deduced by instrumentation.

A huge range of approaches is explored, ranging from almost Feldman-esque, gradually developing harmonies to furious free jazz to brass counterpoint that could almost be described as a chorale. And bringing it all to an end – the last few minutes of disc two contains some of the most unexpected music I have heard in a long time!

A vital and fascinating recording, full of brilliant compositions and astonishing improvising.

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