The special performances of saxophonist and composer Roscoe Mitchell
's Conversation Series with orchestra are cause for celebration. The logistics of more than two dozen players is demanding. Add transcriptions for each instrument, rehearsals, grant writing, and securing an appropriate venue. Mitchell has traveled many miles since his debut Sound
(Delmark Records, 1966) and his work in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. These days he has the standing to realize his concepts, and our ears are better for it.
In May of 2017, Mitchell performed at the AngelicA, Festival Internazionale di Musica with the Orchestra del Teatro Comunale di Bologna under the conduction of Tonino Battista at Teatro Manzoni in Bologna and in duo with organist Francesco Filidei at the Basilica Santa Maria dei Servi, also in Bologna. Of the four compositions Mitchell recorded with orchestra, two "Splatter" and "Distant Radio Transmissions" are presented here. Both pieces are generated from small group improvisations, taken from Conversations I
(Wide Hive Records, 2014), a trio session with Craig Taborn
and Kikanju Baku. Hearing Mitchell's free improvisations transferred from solos and small groups into orchestra is perhaps how the great man heard them when first performed. Besides this release, there is Ride The Wind
(Nessa Records, 2018) with the Montreal- Toronto Art Orchestra, and the Wide Hive Recordings: Discussions
(2017) and Roscoe Mitchell With Ostravska Banda Performing Distant Radio Transmission Also Nonaah Trio, And 8.8.88
Tuning the jazz ear to contemporary (or new) music may take a moment, but the reward is the ability to recognize the improvisations that were present in Mozart's day, and maybe more important, the orderly constructions of free jazz. The shortest composition (at 5:30) is the title track performed by orchestra only. It plows a deep furrow of sound with strings intersecting thunderous bass and percussion. Complex and emotional, the onslaught of sound never gives ground as it advances. Not so for "Distant Radio Transmission" which allows for much more space. The orchestra is joined by the wordless vocals of Thomas Buckner, with whom Mitchell has worked since the 1990s and the saxophonist on soprano. With the orchestra floating an almost tranquil sea of sound, Mitchell plies his unmistakable voice to the affair. With all essential elements in place the components begin to interact, synthesizing compounds into new expression. Is it classical? Improvisation? Yes and yes.
The lengthiest piece at nearly 46 minutes is the duo improvisation "Breath And Pipes." Mitchell switches between alto, soprano, and sopranino saxophones in his conversation with organist Francesco Filidei. It reads "duo" but the third party in Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi is the magnificent organ heard here. At times it is an ethereal angel or rolling thunder and other times it bytes like a laptop performance. There is plenty of call-and-response between the two, Mitchell's bird-like chirps and calls inciting trills and drones. The organ's imposing sound though, is no match for the circular breathing attack of the saxophonist.
Splatter; Distant Radio Transmission; Breath And Pipes.
Tonino Battista: conductor.