Roscoe Mitchell

Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3
ECM 1872

Navigating the perilous currents that eddy between notated and improvised music, Roscoe Mitchell proves that mastery in one idiom translates into another. Dynamic and mercurial, this almost-79-minute CD of “scored improvisations” reflect his immersion in New music as much as his 40-year Free Jazz history.

Here, hand-picked members of his working band interact with musicians recruited by inventive tenor and soprano saxophonist Evan Parker. The nine-part suite is performed by a 14-piece ensemble of one brass player, two percussionists, five woodwinds (including Mitchell on soprano saxophone) and six string players, counting the pianist. Sonically multi-tasking, the musicians interpret organic, near-Romantic cadences as immaculately as perpendicular jazz-inflected passages.

With the piece polyphonic throughout, near-rococo tonality take precedence when cumulative string timbres and ethereal flute lines vibrate. In contrast, Parker’s extensive circular breathing, the angular spiccato and tremolo slashes from Barry Guy’s bass and slurping honks from Anders Savone’s baritone saxophone link those variations to styles ranging from big band Swing to 1960s Energy Music.

Performers who make maximum use of Mitchell’s tactile and elastic score are brass man Cory Wilkes and pianist Craig Taborn. The former heraldically trumpets when harmonizing with the strings, yet splatters plunger vamps fronting the reeds. Taborn’s metronomic formalism slides into a chamber recital form as effortlessly as his declarative key clipping and clanging runs define modern improv.

Purists of either genre could be suckered into appreciating other music by playing them first one defining track, then others.

— Ken Waxman

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For Whole Note Vol. 12 #10