Roscoe Mitchell & the Sound Ensemble

Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes

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What an absolute joy this album is, surely Mitchell's most brilliant since his late-'60s masterpieces like Congliptious and Old Quartet. His Sound Ensemble, at the time comprised of four young and relatively unproven musicians, is the perfect foil for his compositions, able to handle the most abstract ideas as well as the down and dirty funky ones. The opening piece, "Sing/Song," is a perfect case in point, beginning with delicately lyrical, even pastoral flute work, seguing into a staccato quasi-march and from there into seemingly chaotic drones and welters, before ultimately emerging into the sunniest, most relaxed melody you can imagine, with trumpeter Hugh Ragin holding court. Two more thoroughly abstract numbers, "CYP" and "Round," are explored with fine minimalist (in the Morton Feldman sense) approaches and an open idea of space that's quite appealing. "Stomp and the Far East Blues" is by turns righteously funky and ethereally bluesy, with the leader's signature sour-apple alto doing its best to play into and against the melody rather than simply following it along. Throughout, guitarist Barefield supplies wonderful ringing chords of an almost sitar-like quality and the rhythm team of Shahid and Tabbal is rock-solid, hyper-imaginative, and telepathic. When the closing, irresistibly hummable title track is reached, the listener is utterly satiated, as if having finished a rich and complex dinner. Snurdy McGurdy belongs in the collection of any serious fan of late-20th century jazz. Very highly recommended.

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