Roscoe Mitchell – Discussions (2017)

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One of the great living masters of spontaneous composition brings his ingenuity to a grand scale. Discussions (
Wide Hive Records) is a set of works conceived or co-conceived by composer and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell either from transcriptions of improvisations or group improvisations themselves, and — here’s the kicker — performed by an orchestra about twenty musicians large. But this is a Roscoe Mitchell project: these aren’t mere orchestral musicians, it’s probably more accurate to call them “conversants.”

Four of these eight selections are products of trio improvisations first conceived and recorded for Mitchell’s 2014 Conversations I and Conversations II albums: “I’ll See You Out There,” “Cracked Roses,” “Frenzy House” and “Who Dat” were created on the fly back then by Mitchell with pianist Craig Taborn and drummer Kikanju Baku. Mitchell recently asked various college professors and doctoral students of music theory to transcribe these improvisations so that they could be played by a full orchestra.

Hearing these instant compositions after they’ve been transcribed and heavily arranged sheds much light on how there was a method to this trio’s ‘madness’ which becomes clearer when it’s put into this chamber setting. The painstaking transcribing undertaken by those academics helped to make these revelations possible. The final of these four, “Who Dat”, is further set apart by its arrangement that’s more faithful to the original (Jordan Glenn’s drums are a good approximation of Baku’s aggressive style) and James Fei’s squiggly electronics.

More revelations come out in the two full orchestral group improvs “Discussions I” and “Discussions II.” They’re readily distinguishable from the transcribed pieces in that they’re diffused and freer but it also isn’t the chaos as one might think it would be. Through the steady conducting of Steed Cowart and Mitchell’s visionary leadership, the flow is palpable and episodic. It’s truly a super-sized version of Mitchell’s small group improvs.

For a couple of (relatively) brief performances, the orchestra isn’t involved; “Cascade” and “Home Screen” are unscripted songs conjured up by Mitchell and flautist Wilfrido Terrazas, and the way they wrap their instruments around each other is spellbinding.

Perhaps those two spontaneous compositions will someday form the basis for another set of works performed by a full orchestra. With the restless and boundless ambition that’s marked Roscoe’s Mitchell career from the 60’s up to today, he’s likely to do something at least that bold. If not more so.


S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron

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