Nicole Mitchell: Arc Of O
Arc Of O
Subtitled "for improvisers, chamber orchestra and electronics," flutist Nicole Mitchell's genre-busting Arc Of O resonates a little with the almost forgotten Third Stream. Coined by composer/educator Gunther Schuller as a term for a synthesis of classical music and jazz at the end of the 1950s, the label has been subsumed within the jazz world's ever increasing eclecticism which sees all cultures as fair game. Some of the first improvisers to admit their influences hailed as much from contemporary classicism as the jazz tradition were among the early members of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), including saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, and pianist and founding member of the movement Muhal Richard Abrams.
So it's no surprise that Mitchell, one-time president of the AACM, draws freely from a dizzying range of sources in one of her most ambitious undertakings to date. Extended compositions, such as Xenogenesis Suite, works for the AACM large ensemble and the American Composer's Orchestra, figure increasingly significant in Mitchell's oeuvre. Kaleidoscopic shifts characterize the piece: in textures and instruments; dynamics between solo and group; and not least styles. Mitchell sequences her events, which vary from the explosive to the reflective, in seemingly unrelated juxtapositions. But as the piece progresses through its six parts and 45 minute duration, the events are progressively overlapped, in a manner reminiscent of saxophonist/composer Anthony Braxton's Twelvetet + 1, in which Mitchell participates on occasion.
Confounding the stereotype that classically trained musicians can't improvise, the accomplished Polish Chamber Ensemble carry off Mitchell's polyglot fancies with aplomb, including both the jazzier stretches and those which sound completely spontaneous. Alongside the Poles, Mitchell herself and three other denizens of the Windy City: reedmen David Boykin and Mwata Bowden, and violinist Renee Baker, provide additional firepower. The electronics contribute incidental ambient color. Though recurring thematic and melodic matter appears, mutates and reappears throughout, at the larger scale the material and structure is largely non-repeating.
The four Americans integrate fully into the orchestration. Strings jostle with the horns at the outset of "Arc Of O-II," before the leader's fluttering flute expels a bruised lyricism. Later Boykin's breathy yelping tenor saxophone features heavily, initially alone in rubato meditation, then through various composed sections, and ultimately in ecstatic duet with roiling drums. "Arc Of O-III" shines the spotlight on Bowden's clarinet, in a folky dance over percolating rhythms and martial drums, before morphing into a klezmer-tinged hoedown. Similarly unexpected transformations become a constant refrain. In "Arc Of O-IV" Mitchell's choppy flute surfs first a string ostinato, then a rumbustious riff belayed by piano, horns and drums. As the other instruments fall away, the piano riff somehow transmutes into a sparse improvisation on prepared piano strings.
As if to demonstrate the continuity of her work, Mitchell's layered multi-event concept carries over into the concluding "Afrika Rising," reprised from the 2002 album of the same name released on her own Dreamtime imprint. It makes for a rousing finish to a compelling disc. In the liners, the flutist explains that "Arc Of O" has been a turning point, leading to further commissions bridging the jazz and contemporary worlds. If they are all as stimulating as this outing then perhaps they will generate their own terminology.
Tracks: Arc of O-I; Arc of O-II; Arc of O-III; Arc of O-IV; Arc of O-V; Arc of O-VI; Afrika Rising.
Personnel: Nicole Mitchell: flute, vocals, electronic samples, composition, conduction; Renée Baker: violin; Mwata Bowden: baritone saxophone, bass clarinet, clarinet; David Boykin: tenor saxophone; an_ARCHE New Music Ensemble: Rafal Zapala: artistic direction of the project, electronics, percussion; Filip Walcerz: artistic director, electronics; Krzysztof Dys: piano; Rafal Gubanski: clarinet; Kuba Jankowiak: trumpet; Kuba Klepczynski: trombone; Agnieszka Kowalczyk: cello; Lukasz Krzeminski: oboe; Remigiusz Strzelczyk: viola; Maciej Strzelecki: violin; Pawel Szpura: drums; Ksawery Wojcinski: double bass.