Muhal Richard Abrams / Roscoe Mitchell: Spectrum (2010)
Spectrum continues this unusual association (coincidentally, it includes some thoughtful liner notes by Lewis, reuniting the Streaming trio in a very different way). The album opens with a beautiful 12-minute duet that realizes the promise the meeting of these two improvisers holds. "Romu" is just plain lovely, a beautiful, unhurried interaction building slowly to a relative frenzy but never losing its center. The rest of the album will no doubt meet with varied reactions, but the duo piece alone sells it.
The remainder of the album puts the Janácek Philharmonic (with Petr Kotik conducting) at each of their disposal and shows an interest on both their parts in mixing mid-20th Century orchestral vocabulary with romantic flourish. Mitchell's "Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City" is a tone poem using text by Art Ensemble band mate Joseph Jarman (the poem also provided the title for a 2006 Art Ensemble album, although Mitchell's score doesn't appear there). The text is delivered in broad, operatic strokes by Thomas Buckner, whose improv outings can seem rather straying but who has always worked well with Mitchell. The string-heavy ensemble plays a support role here, making a bed for the round syllables of the verse. It's an accomplished piece, even if it doesn't measure up to Mitchell's horn-driven work.
Abrams' "Mergertone" covers a remarkable lot of ground over its 17 minutes. Opening with a spacey synthesizer (presumably it's Abrams playing) the piece works through so many ideas, from suggestions of Varèse percussion rhythms to simple, layered harmonies to pastoral, tonal passages. It all seems to move a little too quicklythe piece could be twice as long and have more breathing roombut it reveals a surprising new angle of the enigmatic composer.
Track Listing: Romu; Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City; Mergertone.
Personnel: Muhal Richard Abrams: piano; Roscoe Mitchell: saxophones; Thomas Buckner: baritone; Petr Kotik: conductor; Janáček Philharmonic.
Record Label: Mutable Music
Style: Beyond Jazz