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Album Review

Legendary avant-garde jazz saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell is best known for his role as a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago. This group is recognized for incorporating, and none too subtly ridiculing, the long-bearded tradition of Western Art Music. Mitchell, nonetheless, has something to say that is within the tradition himself, apart from, but related to, his work in the field of jazz. Usually the sort of classical music piece produced by a "jazz cat" is formulated within certain limited parameters — either bluesy chords or jazzy rhythms are hung upon established classical music forms like pinning laundry to a clothesline, or a parody of some well-known classical melody is "jazzed up." Roscoe Mitchell is not in the least bit interested in these now hackneyed hybrids, and the music that appears on the Roscoe Mitchell New Chamber Ensemble's Lovely Music disc Pilgrimage is classical music, period. Nonetheless, most of it is improvised, which makes the results challenging and rather unusual. Roscoe Mitchell's chamber ensemble consists of violinist Vartan Manoogian, pianist Joseph Kubera, baritone Thomas Buckner, and Mitchell himself on multiple reeds and percussion. The music ranges from Webern-like abstractions to sweet textures reminiscent of 19th century "harmoniemusik." The hardest aspect of Pilgrimage to get used to is vocalist Buckner, and he is a central element. Buckner's speaking voice is more accessible than the singing, but after a while a patient listener will adapt, and the voice will be perceived as fitting in along with the other instruments. Roscoe Mitchell said in a recent lecture: "To me, Beethoven swings, and so does Bach. Who knows what Charlie Parker would be doing now if he had lived?" It is a little known fact that Parker was practicing Béla Bartók's Sonata for Solo Violin on his saxophone in the weeks before his death. Perhaps Roscoe Mitchell, in projects such as Pilgrimage, is carrying on the forward momentum of Parker even as much as, or more than, a typical hard bop improviser for whom jazz is the be all and end all of music.

Pilgrimage, Roscoe Mitchell New Chamber Ensemble
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