These excellent trio recordings provide proof that, 50 years into his recording career, multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell continues to find new worlds to explore in his musical universe. Though his compositional methods range from music notated along traditional lines to free improvisation, it seems safe to assume that most of what we hear on Conversations I and Angel City is improvised along preset guidelines. What these might be is, ultimately, irrelevant to the experience of hearing the music, but the fact that they guide the ways that the musicians relate to one another is worth keeping in mind. On Conversations I, Mitchell is joined by Craig Taborn (piano, keyboards and synthesizers) and Kikanju Baku (percussion). Taborn has worked with Mitchell frequently since the late ‘90s while Baku is newer to the scene and information gleaned online (there are no liners here) indicates that he is a Japanese musician based in London. Taborn never puts a foot wrong, whether he is working through the avant side of his widely varied piano style or showing how well a judiciously handled synthesizer can blend in on a group improvisation. Baku is extremely impressive as well, his concept of rhythm not unlike the constant fragmentation of either a Milford Graves or such Europeans as Tony Oxley, but his frame of reference is completely different from either of these masters.
Baku’s willingness either to lay out or simply lay low for prolonged periods helps the overall flow enormously and when things heat up, he is right there, dancing through the traffic with agility and poise. As for Mitchell, he spends more time giving subtle cues than pouring out a lot of flipped-out saxophone lines. It’s a blast when he does get into some of this, as on “Outpost Nine Calling” for instance, but when this happens it feels like part of the whole play, not just one actor’s monologue.— Duck Baker