Take Five: Roscoe Mitchell, Luciana Souza, Ben Allison, Steve Coleman's Natal Eclipse, Mobetta Brown

Jun 26, 2017

Roscoe Mitchell, “EP 7849”

The composer, multi-instrumentalist and educator Roscoe Mitchell has been a profound force in American experimental music for more than half a century – since the earliest stirrings of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, in the mid-1960s. His new double album is Bells For the South Side, recorded at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and just out on ECM.

The performance — part of an exhibition celebrating the 50th anniversary of the AACM — featured Mitchell leading four trios, with the music often taking shape in amorphous episodes. “EP 7849” is one of a few tracks that enlists all the musicians en mass, and its sonic character wouldn’t be out of place in a doom metal show. Some of what you hear is dark, deep and vibrational, the result of electronics manipulated by James Fei and Craig Taborn. Some of it is rustling and percussive, courtesy of William Winant, Kikanju Baku, Tani Tabbal and Tyshawn Sorey. Mitchell’s presence is subtle — is that a bass saxophone in the mix? — but his signature is clear.  

Ben Allison’s Think Free, “The Detective’s Wife”

Bassist-composer Ben Allison has a knack for forming bands that feel both slinky and sturdy, and Think Free is a sterling example. A quintet featuring trumpeter Jeremy Pelt out front, it has a new album, Layers of the City, due out this week on Allison’s own label, Sonic Camera Records. The album travels an axis from tender to tumultuous, with rock atmospherics frequently entering the picture.

“The Detective’s Wife” is a medium-slow swinger with a noir attitude, a terrifically pithy piano solo by Frank Kimbrough, and some smart commentary from Pelt (using a Harmon mute) and Allison himself (nimble but booming). Think Free plays an album-release gig July 20-22 at the Jazz Standard; to order the album, which releases on Tuesday, visit benallison.com.

Luciana Souza, “Every Little Thing”

It can feel like we’ve seen every possible form of tribute to the alto saxophonist and bebop lodestar Charlie Parker, but The Passion of Charlie Parker has its own curious slant. The brainchild of producer Larry Klein, it might best be described as a biographical portrait in song, with Parker’s melodies set to original lyrics (by David Baerwald) and sung by an all-star cast of contemporary vocalists. Luciana Souza does the honors on “Every Little Thing,” a reinvention of the jaunty blues “Bloomdido.” Her brisk execution recalls the vocalese flair of someone like Jon Hendricks. And as on the rest of the album, the band is tops: Donny McCaslin on tenor saxophone, Craig Taborn on piano, Ben Monder on guitar, Scott Colley on bass and Eric Harland on drums. (The Passion of Charlie Parker is out digitally from Impulse!/Verve, and will be released in physical formats on June 30.)

Steve Coleman’s Natal Eclipse, “Dancing and Jabbing”  

Inspiration can assume many forms for Steve Coleman, the alto saxophonist, conceptualist, bandleader and composer. On his new album, Morphogenesis, he conceived several pieces as sonic representations of boxing maneuvers. (Coleman is a student of the sweet science, and a known admirer of Floyd Mayweather.) Try to keep that notion in mind as you hear a track from the album, which he titled “Dancing and Jabbing.” Morphogenesis may be the least insistently rhythmic album of Coleman’s career; its chamber lineup includes some percussion but no drum kit. What this instrumentation enables is a certain kind of transparency, a way to better “see” the counterpoint with three-dimensional clarity. After Coleman’s cool-tempered solo, you’ll hear some punch combinations from trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson and pianist Matt Mitchell.

Mobetta Featuring Prodigy, “Daydreams”

Last week the influential Queens rapper Prodigy, of Mobb Deep, died at 42. Hip-hop fans, mourning his loss, reached instinctively for “Shook Ones (Part II),” an iconic track from 1995, partly built on a Herbie Hancock sample. But this was far from the full extent of Prodigy’s connection to the jazz world.

Maurice Brown, the jazz trumpeter who travels in hip-hop circles as Mobetta, worked more than casually with Prodigy in recent years. On “Daydreams,” a track from his 2013 album Maurice vs Mobetta, Brown raps the hook but reserves pride of place for Prodigy, whose sweet talk and street hypotheticals feel intertwined. “And it don’t stop,” he declares. “We’re still being loved in the afterlife.”