Now that the Art Ensemble of Chicago is pretty much on autopilot, restless reedist and composer Roscoe Mitchell is doing his most exciting work with his outside projects. Last year he presented his monstrous mid-70s percussion-heavy sound study “The Maze” as part of a historical concert at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Delmark Records recently issued In Walked Buckner, a quartet outing with pianist Jodie Christian, bassist Reggie Workman, and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath that glides effortlessly between tricky postbop and pin-drop textural explorations. His best work in recent memory, however, is Nine to Get Ready (ECM), a nonet recording that distills many of his career compositional concerns into 55 lush, otherworldly minutes. Mitchell augmented his Note Factory, a long-standing group comprising pairs of bassists (William Parker and Jaribu Shahid), pianists (Matthew Shipp and Craig Taborn), and percussionists (Gerald Cleaver and Tani Tabbal), with trumpeter Hugh Ragin and trombonist George Lewis to fulfill his dream of leading “an ensemble of improvising musicians with an orchestral range.” The group is all that, turning in remarkable performances on a typically diverse Mitchell program. In the elegiac opener, “Leola,” soft-focus horn lines and rippling piano are meticulously and melodically layered; this leads into “Dream and Response,” which opens up spatially and replaces melody with tactile instrumental interactions. Mitchell’s unbroken connection with the jazz tradition is driven home poignantly by his lovely ballad “For Lester B,” a tribute to Art Ensemble trumpeter Lester Bowie that features delicate lines from Ragin and unusually tender, lyrical bass interplay between Parker and Shahid. And he’s also managed to maintain his sense of humor, as evidenced by the raucous funk-rock closer “Big Red Peaches.” While Nine to Get Ready is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, it does suffer from ECM’s notoriously “atmospheric” production style–if you didn’t read on the sleeve that there were two rhythm sections you’d never guess it. Live, of course, this won’t be a problem. At this three-night stand, which begins Thursday, June 10, Lewis will be absent and bassist Leon Dorsey will sub for Parker (who’ll nonetheless be in the house on Friday, when he and Shipp will perform an opening set); Ari Brown will sit in for Shipp on Thursday and percussionist Vincent Davis will replace Cleaver on Saturday. Thursday, June 10, Friday, and Saturday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Joseph Blough.