In the 1970s, Roscoe Mitchell was a founding member of both Chicago’s AACM collective and the seminal Art Ensemble of Chicago. Forty years on, he continues to evolve as a composer, bandleader, and instrumentalist. He’s become a soloist of almost unparalleled creative facility, and that’s seldom been better evidenced than in the four live improvisations comprising this new set.
Improvisations (OTOroku) documents the first of Mitchell’s two nights at London’s Cafe OTO in March 2012. It is issued on Cafe Oto’s in-house label, OTOroku, on vinyl and/or via download.
This was Mitchell’s first visit to the venue, and he formed a new trio for the stand with London-based drummer Tony Marsh and double bassist John Edwards. They proved to be exceptionally simpatico, as I paid witness in my review of the second night. (Marsh and Edwards know each other well, and regularly make a trio with Mitchell’s co-leader of the Transatlantic Art Ensemble, saxophonist Evan Parker.)
Marsh’s contribution was outstanding. Playing what OTOroku describe as a “jerry-rigged suspended percussion set-up (no kick or hi-hats)”, he put in a powerfully incisive and imaginative performance, so it was doubly shocking to anyone who witnessed those shows when he died unexpectedly just a few weeks later.
Improvisations presents Marsh’s last documented performances. It carries a dedication to his memory, but it’s the music that best attests to his inimitability.
The four side-long performances present what are effectively four quarter-hour variations on the same open-form game-plan: improvisations that are, at first, busy yet deceptively relaxed, becoming knotty by accretion and increasingly agitative, until Mitchell’s saxophony spills over into literally breathless torrents of sustained circular breathing.
Once Mitchell’s in spate, the ever-creatively industrious Edwards’ rhythmics and Marsh’s timpanistic colorations flesh out the sound field and modulate dynamics. My review notes Marsh’s “exquisite sensitivity” and the “subtleties behind Edwards’ surface aggression”, and those qualities are fully in evidence already on the earlier date.
Recording and mixing was handled in-house by OTOroku, who did an excellent job. On occasion the mix doesn’t favour the bass, but that’s a fair reflection of the live sound, and the physical immediacy of Edwards’ sound isn’t readily overshadowed in any case.
The occasional sonorous clatter of empty bottles on OTO’s concrete floor will spark memories for anyone lucky enough to have witnessed these one-off concerts, which by general consensus were highlights of the year.
Roscoe Mitchell with John Edwards and Tani Tabbal at Cafe Oto, 29 January 2013
Roscoe Mitchell with John Edwards and Tony Marsh at Cafe Oto, 10 March 2012
Ray Warleigh – Rue Victor Massé (a wonderful set of duets with Tony Marsh, released on psi in 2008; reviewed by myself for The Jazz Mann)