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Roscoe Mitchell & Tatsu Aoki - First Look: Chicago Duos

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Artist: Roscoe Mitchell & Tatsu Aoki

Album: First Look: Chicago Duos

Label: Southport

Review date: Jan. 22, 2006

Roscoe Mitchell’s accomplishments are legion. He has been a distinguished member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians for about 40 years, founded and sustained the Art Ensemble of Chicago, mastered just about every reed instrument known to man, and established still-barely-comprehended links between jazz and baroque and funk within a matrix of silence and sound. Tatsu Aoki is a tireless player, concert and band organizer, label head, educator and filmmaker, but many outside of Chicago probably know the Tokyo-born bassist best for his recordings with Fred Anderson.

It’s hard to shake the ghost of another bassist when approaching this record – Malachi Favors Maghostut. In and out of the Art Ensemble, Favors was Mitchell’s most faithful accompanist; he also recorded an album of duets with Aoki. Favors died early in 2005, before this album’s release but after its recording, and its hard not to think of how his grave and thoughtful presence might have loomed over one last round of sessions with either of the musicians present

Aoki is up to the scrutiny throughout this approachable but uncompromising set. His tone isn’t as weighty as Favors’, but his sure rhythmic sense and capacity for thoughtful understatement are a great balance for Mitchell’s complex statements and pitilessly challenging pitch choices. Aoki’s bowing creates a ceremonial framework for Mitchell’s ultra-long, keening lines, and his fleet pizzicato figures pull trim knots of woody resonance through irregularly blurted alto sax signposts during the first half of “Dot.” Mitchell reverses himself in the tune’s second half, using circular breathing to fuel an unfurling ribbon of fiendishly complex sound. By dint of sheer length and density, “The Journey” dominates the record. The 15-minute piece opens with a stark percussion discussion whose irregular drumbeats and barely-there gong strokes wouldn’t seem out of place at some temple in Aoki’s homeland. Then he switches to a buoyant bass groove and Mitchell issues gently feathered phrases, which in turn gradually sharpen and quicken into an argument as pointed and sonically brilliant as anything Jackie McLean ever mustered. This in turn mutates into a careening, coarse-toned flight as convoluted as an Evan Parker solo excursion. But where Parker’s efforts seem to squeeze out of a peristaltic harmonic convulsion, Mitchell’s duck into some physicist’s wormhole and then turn up behind you. The epic ends with a final lyrical plea that ties it all together. Surprising, inevitable, and elegant, such gestures illustrate how linked Mitchell’s compositional and improvisational practices have become.

By Bill Meyer

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