JAZZ | Peter Margasak
In 1966 Delmark Records released Sound, the first album by brilliant Chicago reedist Roscoe Mitchell. Chuck Nessa, then the manager of Jazz Record Mart, had convinced Bob Koester, founder of Delmark and the shop's longtime owner, to let him produce some albums by members of the nascent Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Mitchell's was the first, and in 1967 Delmark released debuts by reedist Joseph Jarman (who would soon form the Art Ensemble of Chicago with Mitchell) and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. The AACM would eventually be recognized for its seismic impact on the development of jazz and improvised music, and this has conferred a special status upon Sound in retrospect. But it turns out not to be the first AACM recording.
When Nessa first approached Mitchell, the reedist told him about a session he'd cut in 1965 with his working quartet: bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Alvin Fielder, and trumpeter Fred Berry. Nessa says, "I didn't want to use the existing tape because I thought something current would be better, and I was anxious to have my first experience producing." He can't remember if he actually heard the recording at the time.
Last month, thanks to Nessa's label, the music finally saw release after 46 years. Before There Was Sound isn't as groundbreaking as what followed—Sound captures Mitchell as a fully formed artist, exploding traditional jazz structures—but the band was already blazing its own trail. Mitchell and crew experiment with contrast and context (placing garrulous, fast-paced passages next to restrained, austere ones), song forms, and shifting combinations of improvisers (various solos, duos, and trios among the composed themes).
The album's eight tracks include five Mitchell compositions (there are two takes of "Carefree") and one tune apiece by Favors and Berry. Most were recorded in summer 1965 at WUBC, the old University of Chicago radio station. Nessa has been talking with Mitchell about releasing this material since the 70s, and even after he negotiated a deal it was a struggle to locate period photos. Mitchell, Favors, and Fielder went on to make Sound with trumpeter Lester Bowie, saxophonist Kalaparush Maurice McIntyre, and trombonist and cellist Lester Lashley. According to Terry Martin's liner notes, Berry left Chicago in 1966 to pursue a doctorate at Stanford—he remains at the school, directing its jazz orchestra.