Roscoe Mitchell

Roscoe Mitchell is a rare jazz musician who can also be comfortable in the world of contemporary classical music. Mitchell can be described as a more convincing musician when he is working with European-influenced music. Mitchell can sometimes come across as stifling and unnatural when he relies on formal and structural jazz conventions. Mitchell’s explorations into nontonal, free-time improvisation, both structured and unstructured, are on the other side as as spontaneous as the best jazz. Mitchell’s improvisations are a feat of intellectual discipline and rigor. Mitchell is both a patient and an impulsive improviser. He’s prone to creating alternating episodes of order, chaos, clarity, and complexity. Mitchell is an excellent, if somewhat eccentric, saxophonist. Mitchell’s tone on soprano and alto is edgy, brittle. Mitchell’s saxophone lines are at their most poetic. His improvised melodies often resemble works by Morton Feldman. However, Mitchell’s music is more emotional. Mitchell’s most energetic playing is when he takes advantage of the saxophone’s timbral flexibility as well as the horn’s natural tendencies which allow him to play fast, scalar notes. Mitchell’s playing is passionate and intense, no matter how loud or slow it may be. Mitchell was a teenager who played clarinet and saxophone. Mitchell was stationed in Germany with the Army and played in a band that included Albert Ayler, a pioneer in tenor saxophone. Mitchell returned to the U.S. as a soldier in 1961 and played bass with Malachi Favors, Henry Threadgill and Anthony Braxton. Mitchell started listening to John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman recordings. He began studying with Muhal Richard Abrams, pianist and composer. He began playing in Abrams’ Experimental Band, which was a rehearsal group that explored contemporary jazz composition and improvisation. He was one of the founding members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in 1965. This non-profit organization was founded by Abrams and Steve McCall (pianist Jodie Christian), Phil Cohran (composer) and drummer Steve McCall (drummer). The AACM was founded on the same principles as Experimental Band. Mitchell’s sextet, which included trumpeter Lester Bowie and tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Marice McIntyre, as well as bassist Favors, trombonist Lester Lashley, drummer Alvin Fiedler, became the first AACM group ever to record. The album Sound (Delmark) was both abstract in concept and execution. It explored the relationship between sound and silence using unconventional devices such as spontaneous collective improvisations, toy instruments and non-musical sounds. Sound was a departure from the more extrovert work of the New York-based free-jazz players. It paved the way for a new way of playing jazz-based music. Mitchell was also a solo saxophonist at the time. The Roscoe Mitchell art ensemble consisted of Phillip Wilson, Phillip Wilson, and Lester Bowie as trumpeter. This combination failed to record, so Jarman replaced Wilson and the group toured Europe in 1969. The trip was extremely successful. The band was renamed Art Ensemble of Chicago and recorded extensively in France. Their reputation was established on the basis of these albums. Mitchell briefly played in St. Louis after his 1971 return to the United States. After returning to the United States in 1971, Mitchell settled in Chicago. He founded the Creative Arts Collective in 1974. The group, which was based in East Lansing (MI), had a similar purpose to the AACM. Mitchell continued to develop his solo saxophone technique in the 1970s, performing with various combinations of his AACM colleagues and with the Art Ensemble. This latter group was the most highly acclaimed jazz ensemble of the next 20 years, and won frequent critics’ polls. Mitchell led the Sound Ensemble in the 1980s and 1990s. This group included members from his Creative Arts Collective. Mitchell expanded his collaborations with classical composers/performers like Pauline Oliveros or Thomas Buckner in the 1990s. The trio that included Buckner and Borah Bergman, a virtuoso piano player, was a highly effective unit. Since 2000, Mitchell has remained active, releasing a handful of recordings including Solo 3 in 2004 and Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2

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