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Four Compositions

Roscoe Mitchell

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Album Review

Later in his career, Roscoe Mitchell kept a toe in contemporary "classical" circles in addition to his avant-garde jazz groups and his continued participation in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Four Compositions gives listeners some examples of his work in this genre, with mixed though intriguing results. "Nonaah," which Mitchell has recorded in a wide variety of contexts and instrumentations, is here given a reticent, almost too-polite reading with little of the punch the piece is capable of generating. But the duo of Mitchell (on alto saxophone) and violinist Vartan Manoogian has a beautiful delicacy that evokes Japanese kabuki music. "Cutouts," for woodwind quintet, edges back into dry academia, not very distinguishable from countless other post-serial experiments. The final track, "Prelude," is the most fascinating of the disc, an exploration of ultra-low instruments and voice. Mitchell has had a long fascination with the lower end of the sonic spectrum, and here wields his trusty bass saxophone along with the late Gerald Oshita on contrabass sarrusophone and, most impressively, Brian Smith on triple contrabass viol, an instrument approximately nine feet long that must be played by the performer standing on a platform four feet high. The dark array of colors created, augmented by Tom Buckner's voice, is visceral and moving. Four Compositions is thus a mixed bag; not one of Mitchell's premier recordings but a good example for fans wanting a taste of his "serious" side.

Biography

Born: 03 August 1940 in Chicago, IL

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Roscoe Mitchell is the rare jazz musician who also moves comfortably within the realm of contemporary classical music. It might even be said that Mitchell is a more convincing artist when working in European-influenced forms. When relying on structural and formal jazz conventions, Mitchell can often come off as stilted and unswinging. On the other hand, his forays into free-time, nontonal improvisation (both structured and unstructured) are as spontaneous and as emotionally satisfying as the best...
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Four Compositions, Roscoe Mitchell
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