Saturday, March 25, 2017

Roscoe Mitchell - 1978 - L-R-G / The Maze / S II Examples

Roscoe Mitchell 
L-R-G / The Maze / S II Examples

01. L-R-G-(Part One) 18:49
02. L-R-G-(Part Two) 17:40
03. The Maze 21:40
04. S II Examples 17:15

Roscoe Mitchell - piccolo, flute, oboe, clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, bass saxophone
Wadada Leo Smith - trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn
George Lewis - sousaphone, Wagner tuba, alto trombone, tenor trombone

The Maze
Thurman Barker - drums, cow bells, conga drum, gong, glockenspiel, hand bells, marimba, slap stick, triangle, whistle
Malachi Favors - log drum, gong, balafon, cans, hand bells, shakers, seal horn, tambourine, temple gong, zither
Roscoe Mitchell - bugle glockenspiel, bicycle horns, balafon, cow bells, cymbals, conga drum, cycle sprocket, dinner chimes, dome bells, frying pans, finger cymbals, gongs, hanging bell, large swinging bell, press horn, Swiss cow bells, swinging bells, swinging Swiss cow bells, thunder sheet, tuned cymbals, temple blocks, triangles, wood blocks, wood desk, zizzle cymbals
Henry Threadgill - cymbal gongs, finger cymbals, gong, garbage can bottoms, hubkaphone, hand bells, plumbing brass, rhythm sticks, hackbrett
Joseph Jarman - A bell, balafon, bike horns, cymbals, Chinese cymbals, conga drums, chimes, cymbal rack, conch shell, drums, gongs, hand bells, marimba, tom tom, vibraphone, temple gongs
Anthony Braxton - bass drum, cymbals, glockenspiel, garbage can machine, marimba can machine, marimba, orchestra bells, sloshing can machine, snare drum, wash tub machine, xylophone
Douglas Ewart - bamboo table, cymbals, cow bells, large chimes, small chimes, door bell, gongs, hanging bells, little bells, marimba, metal xylophone, winding bell, wooden cow bell, zizzle cymbal
Don Moye - drums, balafon, cow bells, conga drums, cymbal rack, gongs, hand bells, little horns, marimba, triangle, temple gongs, wood blocks

S II Examples
Roscoe Mitchell - soprano saxophone

L-R-G recorded August 7, 1978, at Van Gelder Recording Studio.
The Maze recorded July 27, 1978, at Columbia Studios.
S II Examples recorded August 17, 1978, at Streetville Studios.

Following a successful three-year stint with the Art Ensemble of Chicago in Europe, in 1971 Mitchell came back to Chicago and moved to a farm in Bath, Michigan, just northeast of Lansing. L-R-G / The Maze / S II Examples brought sound explorations he had made in Michigan together with the earlier innovations made by the Art Ensemble. In 1976 he found a happy medium between city and country in Madison, Wisconsin. According to Chuck Nessa, who produced the album, "We spent over a year preparing for that record. I went up to Roscoe's place in Wisconsin every weekend to go over that stuff."

"L-R-G" (which stands for Leo Smith, Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis), is a 37-minute trio for sixteen different instruments grouped by type: woodwinds (Mitchell), high brass (Smith) and low brass (Lewis). For this piece and "The Maze," Mitchell uses the term "sound collages". He took inventory of every possible sound the musicians could produce, then organized the sounds into pieces based on texture, without the restriction of fixed tempos. "L-R-G" was performed once more, not long after the album came out, at New York Public Theater.

"The Maze" is a 21-minute octet for all kinds of percussion including a lot of unconventional instruments. Mitchell used on the piece AACM stars as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill to serve as percussionists, together with Art Ensemble members Don Moye, Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors. Chuck Nessa remembers that it took the musicians more than four hours just to set up all those instruments, but that they nailed the piece in one live take. "The Maze" would never be performed again until two decades later, when Mitchell played all three pieces from the album at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.

"S II Examples" is a 17-minute exploration of multi-phonics on the curved soprano saxophone. The piece was originally designed to be played by a trio with Jarman and Braxton, but when they got together Mitchell discovered that one example that could be done in his curved soprano saxophone couldn't be played on their straight sopranos, so he decided to record it as a solo piece.

In his review for AllMusic, Dave Lewis says about the album that "is a splendidly recorded and mastered CD, and inasmuch as Roscoe Mitchell as classical composer is concerned, this is very close to where it truly starts." The Penguin Guide to Jazz says that "it's a rather bewitching set altogether, and a useful notebook on what Chicago's playing élite were looking into at the period."

Roscoe Mitchell is mostly, and rightly, reckoned with his work as a leading member of the hardscrabble, meta-instrumental, and enormously influential avant-garde jazz group Art Ensemble of Chicago. However, Mitchell also owns a considerable stake in composed music of a kind considerable as classical, which makes use of written materials to drive determinate kinds of improvisation, or even some non-improvised interpretation in the conventional sense. Mitchell's serious work in so-called "serious music" was recognized at the academic level in 2007, when Mitchell was named to the Darius Milhaud Chair of composition at Mills College in Oakland, and many writers date Mitchell's shift of focus to the 1990s when he began to work with such non-jazz, creative musicians as classically trained vocalist Thomas Buckner. However, for Mitchell, contact with classical music disciplines goes back to his very early days as a student in Germany. Nessa's LP Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples documents a period in 1978, when Mitchell was beginning to work on his composed strategies with usual suspect figures from the jazz world, some from the Art Ensemble itself.
In 1978, Michigan-based indie Nessa Records had almost exclusive access to Mitchell and his associates, as the Art Ensemble of Chicago had barely begun its association with ECM -- the first fruits of which did not appear until 1979 -- and the group was reaching the end of a five-year hiatus that also witnessed the collapse of some of the labels it recorded for. The Maze brings the entire Art Ensemble membership, minus Lester Bowie, and other free jazz luminaries such as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill, to serve as percussionists. Rather than being a rattletrap barrage of percussion as one might expect, The Maze is a carefully controlled polyphonic texture of percussion sounds that is mostly vertical and moves forward in a deliberate progression. The quality of the sound in this 1978 recording is astounding, made at the 30th Street Studio belonging to CBS Records. L-R-G (i.e., "L"eo Smith, "R"oscoe Mitchell, and "G"eorge Lewis), brings this high-powered trio of improvisers into contact with an orchestra's wealth of instruments, divided by range and type: woodwinds for Mitchell, high and low brass, respectively, for Smith and Lewis. Like The Maze, this is a slowly forward-evolving catalog of special sounds; however, in this case the sounds are specific to the players involved. S II Examples, likewise, began as a trio for soprano saxophones for Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and Anthony Braxton, but Mitchell realized his curved soprano provided him with some additional flexibility that the straight saxes favored and the others did not. So he decided to record it as a solo piece, and it is an extraordinary one; Mitchell's microcosmic understanding of gradations of tone is virtually encyclopedic, and the amount of wiggle room he has between two half steps is such that when he plays three or four "regular" notes by way of transition, it's an event.
In a superficial sense, Nessa's LP Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples does not represent a radical departure from Mitchell's work as a jazz musician, as does, say, Skies of America does for Ornette Coleman; those who follow Mitchell's work in jazz will well recognize him in comfortable voice here. Nevertheless, for listeners attuned to contemporary art music coming to Roscoe Mitchell with little or no knowledge of his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago should likewise easily understand how his rigorous approach in organizing improvised elements fits in with the rest of the classical avant-garde. Beyond that, Nessa's vinyl Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples is a splendidly recorded, and inasmuch as Roscoe Mitchell as classical composer is concerned, this is very close to where it truly starts.

Review by Uncle Dave Lewis

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