Muhal Richard Abrams/Roscoe Mitchell/Janáček Philharmonic

Spectrum
Mutable 17536-2

Veteran American improvisers, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell get a rare showcase for their notated works on this notable performance by the Janáček Philharmonic of the Czech Republic, conducted by Petr Kotik. Surprisingly enough for two sound explorers, identified with the avant-garde Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (ACCM), both commissions, Abrams’ Mergertone, and Mitchell’s three-part Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City, use the full resources of the orchestra to add lush, impressionistic coloration to the many harmonies and timbres exposed.

A fantasia, Megertone does exactly what the title suggests, layering and contrasting multiphonics. Moderato, it exposes individual instruments as the theme adavances. Pounding kettle drums, insinuations of Ragtime piano plus marimba and xylophone clatter share space with cushioning strings, a slinky oboe line, pan-tonal horn parts and a smooth and soothing tutti finale.

Featuring the cultured tones of baritone Thomas Buckner, the Mitchell piece, initially composed for his Art Ensemble of Chicago group, gains added gravitas from Buckner’s parlando, which mixes outright recitation with a suggestion of plainsong. As the baritone uses melisma to alter the lyrical line, orchestra cadenzas sympathetically scene set, embellish and subtly follow the tempo changes. Chromatic massed reed flourishes, string undulations, metronomic piano patterning and grace notes from the French horns also turn repeated phrasing from mere accompaniment to partnership.

As a prelude to the extended philharmonic performances, the two composers unite on Romu, the CD’s first track, a brief, low-key improvisation.

— Ken Waxman

— For Whole Note Vol. 15 #7