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JAZZ REVIEW : Mitchell's Note Factory Ensemble Labors Over Improvisations at CalArts

April 26, 1993|DON HECKMAN

The six-piece ensemble that Roscoe Mitchell brought to the CalArts Modular Theatre on Friday was called the Note Factory. It's hard to imagine a more accurate label.

Saxophonist-composer Mitchell led the group through seven works in which the players rigorously labored at the production of their instruments' total sonic potential.

The compositions and the soloing were derivations of an open improvisation aesthetic reaching back to Cecil Taylor, Ornette Coleman and the New York and Chicago avant-gardists of the '60s.

Mitchell's variation on the style was structured upon a near-continuous roar of multilayered sounds and random rhythms from pianist Matthew Shipp, drummers Tani Tabal and Vincent Davis, and bassists William Parker and Jaribu Shahid.

His saxophone improvisations--sometimes using circular breathing, occasionally focused around the exploration of a single note and its harmonics--were both intrinsic to, and extensions of, the collective musical ambience.

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The problem with Mitchell's music (as was true with much of the '60s free improvisation) is that it appeared more fascinating to do than to hear.

Lacking any of the familiar musical reference points, the audience was left without means of connection or interaction--occasionally sharing some of the emotional climaxes, more often playing the role of outsiders at a family party.

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