“Jazz is part of the whole picture, but the communication lines are all over the place now. If you’re truly in love with music, you can’t help being affected by that fact.”
Roscoe Mitchell has been a restless explorer of forms, ideas and concepts for more than 40 years. In 1966 his album “Sound” (Delmark) brought a new dynamic into the music with its emphasis on texture and silences and group creativity. After the wild peaks of the energy music of Albert Ayler (whose huge sound Mitchell had first encountered while both musicians were stationed with the US army in Germany in 1960), Mitchell was redefining and re-channelling the intensities of free jazz… “Sound” was the first recorded message to emerge from the newly-formed AACM collective, Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, and it was an album that set directions for the shape of new jazz to come.
In December 1966 the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble was formed. When the group began to work in Europe in 1969 it became known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. From the beginning, however, it was Mitchell’s wide-ranging musical vision that guided this polystylistic and enormously influential band. ECM produced some of the Art Ensemble’s key recordings of the 1970s and early 80s: “Nice Guys”, “Full Force”, “Urban Bushmen”, “The Third Decade”. In 2001 the group returned to the label for “Tribute To Lester”, and curated a “Selected Recordings” disc, a compilation of Art Ensemble material issued in 2002, its programme also including material by Mitchell’s Note Factory group, which had recorded for ECM in 1997.
One of the most significant reedmen of the post-Coltrane era and a musician who has put the composer at the centre of a music primarily distinguished by improvisation, Roscoe Mitchell has also made his mark in the world of contemporary “classical” composition, with numerous works written for ensembles of all sizes; supported over the years with grants from organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts and France’s Institut de Recherche et Coordination Acoustique / Musique (IRCAM). Although his large discography is more heavily weighted toward ‘jazz’, Mitchell has the unusual distinction of being in the vanguard of two idioms. In November 2006, to give a recent instance, he premiered ”White Tiger Disguise” new music for string quartet and baritone voice, setting poetry of Daniel Moore, at New York’s Merkin Hall, to considerable acclaim. Much of Mitchell’s endeavour is in an area between the disciplines. “For myself“, he says, “I don’t call music anything but music.” When Munich’s Kulturreferat consulted ECM, back in 2003, about musicians appropriate for a symposium spotlighting improvisation as part of the compositional process, Mitchell was an obvious choice, along with his transatlantic contemporary Evan Parker. Mitchell and Parker were subsequently commissioned to prepare music for an ensemble assembled by the two of them, for concerts in Munich in September 2004.
The present recording features nine scenes from Roscoe Mitchell’s “Composition/ Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3”, heard here as an extended suite. (Of those scenes, Parts I, II, V, VI, VII, and IX derive from “Composition/Improvisation 2”, Parts VIII and IV from “Composition/Improvisation 1”, Part III from “Composition/Improvisation 3”).
For decades "scored improvisations" have been amongst Mitchell's many means of lifting collective improvising beyond routine responses. While sections of his “Composition/Improvisation” pieces are fully notated, other sections offer a calibrated freedom extended variously to individual musicians, sub-groups of players, or the entire ensemble. Roscoe Mitchell: “For the symposium in Munich, I devised three methods of improvisation with composition. One method involved each player getting a part and also six cards with scored improvisation on them. One piece used a limited number of notes, and I asked the players to use only those notes for improvisation. And for the third piece, I asked players to select their information from the composition and construct improvisation based on that”.
(Liner notes for “Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 and 3” give more details of the recording context. Additionally, original programme notes for the Munich concert can be found at www.unforeseen.de ).
On the American side of the group, Corey Wilkes and Jaribu Shahid are currently also members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Wilkes, Shahid, and Tani Tabbal also play with several other Mitchell groups including his Quintet and his Note Factory band. Craig Taborn also is a member of the Note Factory and both Nils Bultmann and Anders Svanoe have guested with that group on occasion (as on the album “Song for My Sister”, (PI Recordings, 2002) Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal have been associated with Mitchell for 25 years. Amongst their numerous individual credits, bassist and drummer have both played together with the Sun Ra Arkestra, with James Carter, with Geri Allen and others. Both appear on Mitchell’s 1997 ECM recording “Nine To Get Ready”, as does Craig Taborn. One of the most sought-after pianists in contemporary improvising, Taborn plays frequently with Tim Berne and Chris Potter, and can also be heard on David Torn’s new ECM album “Prezens” (release: April 2007).
Corey Wilkes makes his ECM debut with “Composition/Improvisation Nos 1, 2 & 3”. An extravagantly gifted young musician, periodically given to playing trumpet and flugelhorn simultaneously (see Part VIII here), Wilkes was recently voted #1 New Star 2007 by the critics of Italy’s Musica Jazz.
Evan Parker first recorded for ECM in 1970, when the label was less than a year old and is still a presence today with his Electro-Acoustic Ensemble (four albums so far: “Toward The Margins”, “Drawn Inward”, “Memory/Vision”, “The Eleventh Hour”). Philipp Wachsmann, Paul Lytton and Barry Guy have all appeared on Parker’s electro-acoustic discs. Flutist Neil Metcalfe is a member of Parker’s expanded Electro-Acoustic Chamber Orchestra which makes its debut at this year’s Huddersfield Festival (November 2007). At different times Neil Metcalfe, John Rangecroft, Barry Guy and Evan Parker were all members of John Stevens’s Spontaneous Music Ensemble, the flagship band of European free improvising.
Barry Guy has recorded in diverse contexts for ECM including his own discs as composer (“Folio”, “Ceremony”), as guest with the Hilliard Ensemble (“A Hilliard Songbook”), and with John Potter’s Dowland Project (“In Darkness Let Me Dwell”, “Care-charming Sleep”; a third disc is in preparation for autumn 2007 release).
And Philipp Wachsmann and Paul Lytton have recorded in duo for ECM (“Some Other Season”).
“Composition/Improvisation Nos 1, 2 & 3” is released to coincide with Mitchell’s March 2007 tour with ensembles including Corey Wilkes, Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal, and Craig Taborn. The Roscoe Mitchell Quintet plays the Bergamo Jazz Festival on March 9, followed by further festival appearances with the Note Factory in Austria and Germany. More details at www.ecmrecords.com/tours
Further recordings with Roscoe Mitchell are in preparation.
CD booklet includes photos by Caroline Forbes and a liner note by Steve Lake.