18 November 2007

Roscoe Mitchell

In The Nation this week is a nice essay by Brian Morton on saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell who, among other things, is a stalwart in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and a founding member of and driving force behind the Art Ensemble of Chicago. I've been listening to the AEC since before I went to graduate school, but have only occasionally listened to any of Mitchell's many other musical projects. Morton's essay is a useful guide to all of those. And it helps to situate Mitchell at the intersection of more or less traditional jazz sensibilities and modern European compositional music.

Not long ago I had purchased a new album by Mitchell Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1,2 & 3
(ECM) which is a daunting live recording by a 14 member ensemble. The liner notes to the disc begin like this: 'Arnold Schoenberg in 1933 described composition as "slowed down improvisation," adding "often one cannot write fast enough to keep up with the stream of ideas." Indeed, the ideas on this recording burst forth, sometimes scored, but often also from musicians (singly, in sub-groups or as the whole ensemble) given wide latitude to improvise. It is difficult for me to understand quite what is going on in this music some of the time. It does make me wonder though, and I take that to be a good thing.

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