Nine To Get Ready
Roscoe Mitchell saxophones, flute, vocal
Hugh Ragin trumpet
George Lewis trombone
Matthew Shipp piano
Craig Taborn pianos
Jaribu Shahid basses, vocal
William Parker double-bass
Tanni Tabbal drums, percussion, vocal
Gerald Cleaver drums
Recorded May 1997 at Avatar Studios, New York
Engineer: James Farber
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Nine To Get Ready realizes a leap of intuition for saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and his Note Factory ensemble. The influential Art Ensemble of Chicago veteran observes structure in even the freest settings and activates that structure with convulsive possibility. Taking his previous collaborations with Evan Parker as litmus, we find in Mitchell’s approach to composition a like-spirited feeling of bridled spontaneity. Yet if those two unforgettable sessions represented the breaking of new ground, this one enacts a finer sifting of its upturn.
The mysterious “Leola” opens in goopy meditation and perhaps shifts expectations to another plane entirely. From a slow draw it liquefies the pips on playing cards and scrambles them until a royal flush of reflective art takes form. From this Mitchell deals as potent a hand as one could imagine, introducing us to the post-AEC developments he has so meticulously sustained. Here is a scene where sunlight peaks out from overcast Byzantine sky with all the weight of a dictionary compressed into a single utterance. Like the mouth rounded in preparation, its textures work in a symphony of muscle and air. As the atmosphere builds up the depth of its green, trills add fresh movement to an implied and fragrant biosphere. Here is the power of imagination, kneaded until the grammar of brass is personified even as it is depoliticized.
If the Parker comparison feels arbitrary, then through “Dream And Response” it finds purchase in Mitchell’s remarkable sopranism, which lends mysticism also to the silver chain of “Hop Hip Bip Bir Rip.” At once sibilant and razor-edged, it carves as it sings. The beauty of the former piece—and by extension of Mitchell’s sound-world on the whole—is that dream and response are one and the same. Like a nighttime vision it implies a vast and impenetrable backdrop, a sphere of myriad voices. The late Lester Bowie gets prime dedication in “For Lester B.” This gorgeous, slow swing through galactic travels is all the more poignant for trumpeter Hugh Ragin’s soulful approach. Couched in a loving cluster, he casts a bronze of stark quality. A shaded bass solo reaches a hand heavenward and pulls down a projection screen, across which flits a gallery of memories.
To offset the bitter sweetness of it all, Mitchell reveals a clear and golden tone in “Jamaican Farewell.” In the presence of his buttery textures and delectable intonation, the entrance of piano resounds with oceanic current and stuffs plenty of beauty into the naysayer’s pipe. The title track is another soprano feat, circular and intense. Here is also where the doubled backing trio reveals its many-chambered heart. Drummers Tanni Tabbal and Gerald Cleaver, bassists Jaribu Shahid, and pianists Matthew Shipp and Craig Taborn match the speed and tone of every phoneme in a Jacob’s Ladder of overzealous diphthongs. They are both the underlying soil and the fresh pavement atop it. Highlights abound further in “Bessie Harris.” This more straightforward morsel whirls until it spends itself in pure goodness. Phenomenal playing from Mitchell moves the spirit in Ragin’s thin-lipped solo, and bids both drummers to speak. After the insightful experiment in reanimation that is “Fallen Heroes” (featuring Mitchell on flute), the ensemble ends with two shorter tracks, “Move Toward The Light” and “Big Red Peaches,” the latter spinning a Tom Waits-like coda.
We can speak of this music all we like, but by the end it has spoken of us.