Bells for the South Side
Roscoe Mitchell sopranino, soprano, alto and bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder, percussion
James Fei sopranino and alto saxophones, contra-alto clarinet, electronics
Hugh Ragin trumpet, piccolo trumpet
Tyshawn Sorey trombone, piano, drums, percussion
Craig Taborn piano, organ, electronics
Jaribu Shahid double bass, bass guitar, percussion
William Winant percussion, tubular bells, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, roto toms, cymbals, bass drum, woodblocks, timpani
Kikanju Baku drums, percussion
Tani Tabbal drums, percussion
Recorded September 2015 at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago by David Zuchowski
Mixed May 2016 at Studios La Buissonne, Pernes-les-Fontaines by Gérard de Haro with Steve Lake
Mastered by Nicolas Baillard
Produced by Steve Lake
Release date: June 16, 2017
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Roscoe Mitchell presented a cornucopia of trios at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with the exhibition The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now. Said exhibition included percussion set-ups favored by Art Ensemble of Chicago legends Don Moye, Malachi Favors, Lester Bowie, Don Moye, and the reed-favoring multi-instrumentalist himself, all incorporated into the present double-disc recording.
Mitchell is the alpha and omega of this project, spearheading a series of designated trios to explore different organs of his immense compositional body. With Hugh Ragin (trumpet) and Tyshawn Sorey (here on trombone), he offers “Prelude to a Rose,” a somewhat funereal dirge that pops a cathartic blister about midway through.
With Jaribu Shahid (double bass) and Tani Tabbal (drums), Mitchell presents an unabashedly soulful sermon in “Prelude to the Card Game, Cards for Drums, and the Final Hand.” By force of his muscular alto, he punches holes in the time cards printed and cut by Shahid’s thick bowing before Tabbal turns the very concept of time inside out in an extended soliloquy, leaving a brief trio to throw some light at the end of the tunnel. Mitchell continues down that same introspective avenue in “Six Gongs and Two Woodblocks.” For this he’s joined by James Fei (reeds, electronics) and William Winant (percussion) for what may just be the album’s most brilliant turn of events. Its balance of outer and inner is at the very core of what Mitchell does best as a composer.
Even with pen laid aside, as in “Dancing in the Canyon,” a group improvisation with Craig Taborn (piano, organ, electronics) and Kikanju Baku (drums, percussion), he’s still the catalyst for an otherwise impossible chemical reaction. His sopranino dances as if it’s on fire and the only way to keep itself from turning to ashes is to sing until its throat runs dry. The sheer musicality of this unscripted dive inward is lucid to the extreme.
The album’s remainder is as shuffled as its musicians, for throughout it Mitchell recasts his trio actors in new roles and configurations. From the picturesque latticework of “Spatial Aspects of the Sound” to the nearly 26-minute blend of ambience and explosions that is “Red Moon in the Sky,” the latter segueing into the AEC’s calling card, “Odwalla,” played by the entire nonet, sound is substance. Connective tissue along the way spans a world of apparent influences, from Pierre Boulez and Iannis Xenakis to Anthony Braxton and Edgard Varèse. Taborn (electronics) and Shahid (bass guitar) unearth haunting ore in “EP 7849,” while in the title track Ragin slings precise arrows of piccolo trumpet over the “percussion cage” Mitchell created for the AEC and which is resurrected here to wonderous effect by Sorey. But even at its most explosive, as in the drums- and piano-heavy “The Last Chord,” there’s more Genesis than Revelation at play. Let there be music.