Like many long-lived bands, from Duke Ellington’s Orchestras to The Grateful Dead, The Art Ensemble of Chicago’s members have "outside projects" on the side (solo, group and collaborative efforts). Founding member/multi-reed player/composer Roscoe Mitchell has been known to have a few, ranging from without-a-net unaccompanied saxophone recitals to large groups, and Note Factory is one of the more recent. This group is unique in that it employs what might be called a "double rhythm section" method: two pianists, two bassists and two drummers along with three horn players. It’s to Mitchell’s credit as a composer and arranger that the group sound is never cluttered - rather the opposite: the sound exudes a expressive unfussiness for the most part, all the more remarkable when one considers that most of these Factory fellows are established leaders and composers. While there are the usual skronk/free jazz blow-outs here ‘n’ there, much of this music has a quality of a tantalizing, absorbing restraint with just a touch of melancholy, which goes well with some affecting melodies and delicate, inspired group interplay.
One high point is the opener "Leola," a beautiful, alluring near-waltz, kind of like Mingus in his reflective mode, and features some heart-swelling ensemble work - another is the gentle, bittersweet elegy/tribute to the late AEC trumpet wiz Lester Bowie, "For Lester B," with its undertones of gospel music and Ellingtonian balladry. Who’d uh thunk it, but Mr. Mitchell has delivered unto us an album his fans will be pleased with - though if you’re seeking the wild blustery skronk of albums like his Nonaah or the AEC classic Fanfare For The Warriors, you won’t find that here - AND can be recommended as a dandy introduction for the uninitiated.