Roscoe Mitchell stepped to the mic after the second standing ovation of the night and said, "Last time I was here was at the old Outpost (a concert of duets with Malachi Favors). Tom (Guralnick, Director of The Outpost) and I go back many years. We've found out that music keeps you busy."
This evening's music was constituted by some of the best group interaction I have heard in a long time. Bassist/'cellist Harrison Bankhead, drummer Vincent Davis and trumpeter Corey Wilkes managed the ultimate act of respect, supporting Mitchell's every move while at the same time stepping out and being completely distinct and authentic. This was a fully functional collective ensemble, finely honed and tuned, yet somehow it was absolutely clear that Mitchell was the leader. The energy reminded me of some of the great Art Ensemble of Chicago shows I was lucky enough to attend in the 1980s. Mysterious, brooding, abstracted, music like silence itself offset by great swing, thunderous passages of relentless intensity and straightforward head arrangements. The band served up many of the offerings of Mitchell's omnivorous stylistic appetites. Each musician displayed ferocious technique that was artfully in the service of their torrent of ideas. Corey Wilkes sounds the history of "jazz" trumpet but not in a self-conscious way; there's also more than a little Lester Bowie in his playing, but not one shred of imitation, just absorption. Vincent Davis brought huge dynamic range to the percussion and even during subtle passages maintained completely focused energies. Bankhead's bass and cello poured out lines that were impossibly both highly ornate and utterly grounded.
It was Mitchell who reaffirmed his status as a legend. Playing only flute, soprano sax and alto sax, Mitchell remains instantly identifiable as himself. There is no one who plays melodic lines akin to his. A close scrutinization of transcribed Mitchell solos might reveal at least a part of his intervallic predilections, his absolutely unique phrasing and his pantonal choices in relation to bass lines. But his voice couldn't be transcribed, and that's where Mitchell is a nonpareil conjurer. Especially apparent last night was his complete relaxation, mentally and physically. Even during the second set alto solo that involved a lot of circular breath and built to, as well as sustained, an unbelievably complex intensity, Mitchell was the picture of completely relaxed and focused concentration. Also, he wasn't affected by Albuquerque's altitude, which many otherwise very strong players are. The generous resourcefulness and mercurial soul of his music carried the group of very, very heavy players.
Do not miss any chance to hear this group.