Click here to [close]

Friday, February 19, 2021

Roscoe Mitchell & Mike Reed - the Ritual and the Dance (Astral Spirits, 2021) ****½

By Nick Metzger

The legendary reedsman and composer Roscoe Mitchell officially became an octogenarian this past summer and his work continues to grow in scale and scope. His ambition and creativity never waning, Mitchell in a recent interview with SFJAZZ (on the occasion of his induction into the 2020 NEA Jazz Master class) said " takes a long time to be what I'm trying to be!" Though the pandemic has certainly slowed things down for the Chicago native (currently living in Wisconsin), it sounds like he's enjoying the additional time afforded by the lockdown to explore new ideas. Fellow AACM member Mike Reed has also been keeping busy, both keeping his venues the Constellation and the Hungry Brain afloat during the intermittent lockdowns as well as providing virtual and live events (when permitted). Their first duo album In Pursuit of Magic was released in 2014, the same year as the Conversations albums that have become so significant to Mitchell's orchestral works. The album is rightly framed in a review on the (Free) Jazz Alchemist as "A meeting of an avant-guard legend and a few decades younger disciple, one of the most active animators of the modern jazz scene in Chicago- ain't that a definitive prove of art's continuity?" It's a fantastic album that showcases the physicality of their approach across a pair of tracks. On the Ritual and the Dance that physicality is redoubled across a single long piece with Mitchell on saxophones and Reed on percussion and electronics.

The album was recorded in October of 2015 as part of the Oorstof concert series in Antwerp. The piece starts with Reed weaving sparse bits of percussion around Mitchell's irregular, probing sopranino squawk. These minor sounds quickly accumulate in frequency and velocity as the musicians lock into their heady and physical interplay. Reed is a spectacular drummer, a true lion of the skins he colors his crisp, flowing percussion with subtle and sometimes unexpected sounds. Here he puts on a clinic; the speed, power, and sharpness of his technique serve to soften his pummeling attack, but it is a pummeling nevertheless. Mitchell meets him right in the midst of his tempest, a swirling mass of razorwire sound piercing the din. Reed puts down his sticks and adds some light electronics as Mitchell continues working through his concept, then returns subtly and takes over as Mitchell inhales his first deep breath in a quarter hour. The rhythm relaxes and Reed stretches out, working over his toms and punctuating the maelstrom with violent cymbal work. His pace slows and there is a brief period where the duo employ a slightly more delicate measure. Mitchell, now on alto, plays long, wailing figures against the abstract rhythms of Reed. Mitchell's playing quickens as Reed briefly recoils before going in for the finish. Now on soprano, Mitchell peels off knotty, twisted passages within the barrage. The intensity wanes for a final time and Mitchell softly plays bells against Reed's thumping backbeat and the appreciative whoops of the crowd.

This is a special duo and I'd been hoping for a sequel from them for a while now. From Mitchell's artwork adorning the sleeve to the ferociously meticulous contents within, it's my favorite release so far in a still young 2021. Hopefully very soon now I'll get to make the trip up to see a show at one of Mike's places (and soak in a city I've not seen for too long now), in the meantime albums like this serve as reminders of a better time that I still hope to get back to. An incredible set of live music by two of the AACMs finest. Released today and very highly recommended.


debs said...

lol sounds totally retarded :)


Apart from a minor detail, that i have to find the money first, this album is definitely on my to purchase short list//

Captain Hate said...

Excellent review, Nick. Will purchase very shortly. When Roscoe's entire book of work is scrutinized, 2014 will probably be regarded as particularly productive no matter what subsequently follows.

Nick Metzger said...

Thanks Gents, much appreciated. He had a few releases out last year, another one I found really interesting was his Splatter release on i dischi di angelica:

It documents a couple of concerts, the former yielding the world premiere of "Distant Radio Transmissions" as well as a new version of "Splatter" (which is also on Ride the Wind). The real treat is the third track "Breath and Pipes" which is an album length cut itself. It captures a duet b/w Mitchell and the renowned composer and organist Francesco Filidei. They met the same day they recorded it but you'd never guess, both are masters and the track is (imo) among the best things Mitchell has released in the last decade