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Roscoe Mitchell Quartet: Live at “A Space” 1975

Only the most modern of listeners will be able to get with this 38-year-old music. Its barriers to entry are extreme. It comes from two nights in 1975 at A Space, an artist-run gallery in downtown Toronto which, in 2013, is still open for business. Four of the eight tracks were released on the Canadian Sackville label, on LP in 1976 and on CD in 2002; four tracks are previously unissued. The band is Roscoe Mitchell (reeds); George Lewis, a 23-year-old in his debut recording (trombone); Muhal Richard Abrams (piano) and Spencer Barefield (guitar).

In 1975, Mitchell’s primary affiliation was the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The quartet at A Space has more in common with the European and American classical avant-garde. Lewis’ blats in the right channel sound entirely disassociated from Mitchell’s chirps in the left. It is startling when seemingly random utterances coincide and the two arrive at rough unisons. Barefield does not “play” the guitar but occasionally inserts motivational strums or vivid configurations of color. Abrams is the voice of reason, picking his spots, spilling beautiful, comprehensible effusions between and around Mitchell and Lewis.

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