Roscoe Mitchell, Bells For The South Side (ECM)
If you have followed Mitchell’s searching music over the past 50 years, Bells For The South Side will reassure you that the septuagenarian composer, saxophonist and tireless avant-garde inspiration continues to innovate. Mitchell’s music makes demands on listeners—and rewards them for their attention.
This is not a rehash of his work in the 1960s with AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), or of Mitchell’s free jazz pioneering with his Art Ensemble of Chicago. It is brand new. He is one of the great avant garde experimenters, and in this two-CD set there is plenty of experimentation. Some of it involves his arsenal of woodwinds ranging from bass saxophone to sopranino and flute. Other pieces are fiestas of bells, gongs, cymbals, woodblocks and assorted drums. The moments packed with percussion may call into question Mitchell’s commitment to his famous dictum that music is half sound and half silence. Never fear, he lives up to that notion. Quietness is an aspect of what makes for absorbing listening to the ensembles in the opening “Spatial Aspects of the Sound,” and in “The Last Chord,” Cards For Drums and The Final Hand,” and an exhilarating reprise of his 1973 Art Ensemble composition “Odwalla.”
As he continues his adventures, the 77-year-old Mitchell’s colleagues are pianist Craig Taborn, trumpeter Hugh Raglin, trombonist Tyshawn Sorey, saxophonist James Fei, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and percussionists William Winant, Kikanju Baku and Tani Tabbal.
Denny Zeitlin & George Marsh, Expedition: Duo: Electro-Acoustic Improvisations (Sunnyside)
Pianist Denny Zeitlin, Mitchell’s contemporary and fellow native of Chicago, is equally dedicated to ceaseless artistic growth. This is how he concludes a paragraph of notes for his latest collaboration with drummer-percussionist George Marsh,
We often feel like we are some kind of galactic orchestra.
That does not mean that they are space cadets. Their unplanned mutual inventiveness is so logical that it often sounds as if it must have been conceived on manuscript paper, but no; it is spontaneous improvisation, forged in experience and trust that go back to Zeitlin’s 1960s trio with Marsh, his music for the 1970s remake of the film Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and to Riding The Moment, the duo’s previous Sunnyside album. Zeitlin uses electronic keyboards, a synthesizer and creative engineering to fashion, among other things, impressions of horn sections, an arco bass, a guitar and what might be a trumpet or—wait a minute—it’s a trombone (if a trombone could play that high).
Marsh’s cymbals crashes on “Not Lost in The Shuffle” are priceless. Throughout, he accompanies Zeitlin’s permutations with drumming that occasionally echoes and always complements his partner’s piano-synthesizer-organ-trumpet-saxophone-trombone-guitar-orchestra creations. That sentence may read like the prescription for a complex disaster waiting to happen. There is no disaster. The music has a bebop feeling of forward motion in “Traffic;” turns as lyrical as a minor-key Schubert sonata in “Spiral Nebula;” recalls the classic Zeitlin trio with Marsh when “One Song” gets fully underway; makes you want to dance during “Watch Where You Step;” and swings hard during Zeitlin’s electro-faux trombone solo on “Shards Of Blue.”
The album is a remarkable technical accomplishment. More important, it is a solid musical achievement that has the virtue of being—if you’ll pardon the outmoded, uncool, expression—entertaining.
Nat Cole was of a musical generation that did not consider whether it was cool to be entertaining. He welcomed it as an obligation passed along by musicians who included Louis Armstrong and Cole’s hero and role model Earl “Fathah” Hines. This album in the invaluable TCB series of rescued live recordings is from the end of the period when Cole had established himself as a singer but still considered the piano his main instrument. His piano playing here will remind anyone who may have forgotten that with his keyboard touch and refined harmonic sense, Cole was one of the major influences on players of the instrument. Directly or indirectly, he touched every modern jazz pianist who emerged during and after the 1940s. Yet, his fame as a popular singer was so great that it is not unusual for someone to exclaim, as I heard recently, “Oh, he played the piano too?”
This is a typical Cole set from the period, with featured spots for the lightning-fast bongo playing of Jack Costanzo, guitarist Irving Ashby’s lyricism and bebop quotes, and bassist Joe Comfort solid lines. The pianist has notable solos on “Body and Soul” and “Poor Butterfly.” He rather uproariously emulates Hines on “Saint Louis Blues,” which melds into what must be must be one of the earliest covers of Milt Jackson’s “Bluesology.” That piece was on its way to becoming a classic when Jackson first recorded it for Savoy less than four months before this Cole concert. The Swiss audience liked it so much that their enthusiastic applause demanded a reprise.
Yes, Cole sings —good versions of “Embraceable You,” “Little Girl,” “Sweet Lorraine” and “Route 66,” which had been a hit for four years when this was recorded. Cole, the band and the audience were in good spirits and the sound quality captured by Radio SRF at Zurich’s Kongresshaus is generally excellent. This is an important addition to the Nat Cole discography.