Thursday, February 03, 2005

Four Compositions

Roscoe Mitchell: Four Compositions. Posted by Hello

Black History Month continues here at HurdAudio. Tonight I apply ears to this 1987 Lovely Music release of mostly notated music by Art Ensemble of Chicago co-founder Roscoe Mitchell.

I first became aware of Roscoe Mitchell when he played an opening set for the Equal Interest trio a few years back. He played solo, unaccompanied alto saxophone for about an hour straight and it was riveting. So I snapped up this CD as it touches on several of my personal obsessions: contemporary chamber music, atonal music, wind instruments in extreme registers and it's written by a master improviser from the AACM.

"NONAAH (Trio version)" opens this disc. Scored for flute, bassoon and piano. This is understated, pointilistic writing for an unusual combination of instruments. After a brief opening by the flute and bassoon playing independent parts the piano answers with its own pointilist texture before all the instruments begin playing together. Then the textures and tempos shift while sustaining the harmonic atonality of the piece. As a whole, "NONAAH" as a shimmering, haunting work that lingers in the mind even after it has stopped sounding.

"Duet for Wind & String" for violin and alto saxophone. Roscoe Mitchell performs the sax part on this recording. These instruments blend together surprisingly well. It starts with a thoughtful series of dyads that subtly include some multiphonics and a few other extended techniques on the sax. Gradually some melodic lines are added (mostly in unison) in between some variations on the opening dyadic material. Eventually the melodic lines dominate the texture and break into two separate lines. It's a nice form that is well executed.

"Cutouts" for wind quintet. This work is the highlight of the disc. Wind instruments really are Mitchell's best medium and he really nails a great sound with this composition. There's a nice balance of shifting parts and dynamics in this composition. The degree of independence between parts is fluid throughout. This is atonal music with a lightly dissonant touch.

Ironically, the final work is called "Prelude" for voice, bass saxophone, contrabass and triple contrabass viol. I love the photograph included on the sleeve of this particular quartet of large, low-sounding instruments. The focus on this extreme register is not a gimmick for this piece. Mitchell builds a great sound with this unique combination that complements Tom Buckner's singing voice.

Listening to Four Compositions is like experiencing a high quality chamber music recital. Mitchell's approach to writing for wind instruments is haunting and it makes this a CD that stays with me as I keep coming back to it as a model of great arranging of uncompromising compositional ideas.

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