Delmark salvages a classic album from Roscoe Mitchell | Bleader

Delmark salvages a classic album from Roscoe Mitchell


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In 2010 Chicago's venerable Delmark Records purchased the avant-garde catalog of the moribund Canadian jazz imprint Sackville Records, which was formed in 1968 by Bill Smith and John Norris. In general, the former, who also edited and published the jazz magazine Coda, was responsible for the label's free-jazz offerings, while the latter focused on more traditional sounds. Delmark ended up buying that part of the catalog last year. By 2011 Delmark was distributing the remaining Sackville avant-garde catalog, promising to eventually issue previously unreleased material. That promise came true last month when Delmark released Live at "A Space" 1975, a fantastic live recording by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet. That title has been previously issued both on vinyl and CD, but the new Delmark release adds on four previously unreleased tracks from that concert, adding another 20 or so minutes to the album.

It's tempting to say that Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, was at the height of his creative peak when this album was made, but few improvisers and composers have maintained the creative drive for as long as Mitchell, who proved that he's still an indefatigable force when he played a duet concert with Mike Reed at Constellation in April. For this date Detroit guitarist Spencer Barefield and AACM cohorts in pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and trombonist George Lewis joined him. There's a brief, intimate reading of John Coltrane's classic "Naima" and an austere solo piece by Lewis called "Olobo," but otherwise the material is all by Mitchell at his most bracing. Aside from a strong emphasis on group improvisation, the music is decidedly abstract, following on conceptual structures devised by the leader. Below you can hear one such example on the pointillistic, spartan "Cards," for which he passes out cards to each musician. As he explained to Anthony Coleman in a great interview published by Bomb Magazine in 2005, "The cards have music written on them and each musician gets six cards that they can arrange in any way that they want, at their own tempo, to create their own improvisation." But this particular performance stands out, in part, because someone in the group occasionally guns an electric drill—not as pioneering as Tom Zé, who incorporated power tools in his music a few years earlier, but well ahead of Einstürzende Neubauten.

Today's playlist:

Ben Wendel, Frame (Sunnyside)
Eivind Aarset, Dream Logic (ECM)
Nils Wogram Septet,Complete Soul (Nwog)
Steve Lehman Trio, Dialect Fluorescent (Pi)
Ralph Peterson, The Duality Perspective (Onyx)

Peter Margasak writes about jazz every Friday.


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