Music Reviews from the Staff of the Poison Pie Publishing House


December 20, 2015
Roscoe Mitchell: The Complete Remastered Recordings on Black Saint & Soul Note
Unbeknownst to much of the Earth's population, during the late 1970's and continuing through the 1980s and 1990s into the early part of the twenty-first century, the Italian labels Black Saint and Soul Note documented jazz outside the mainsteam as well as some music that has left the jazz moniker far behind. In more recent years the ownership of these recordings has changed hands and CAMJazz is releasing box sets centered on the many individual stalwarts of the labels. While various luminaries (Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, and Steve Lacy large and small) are well-documented, often in decade-spanning form, the series also includes box sets with a truly astounding representation of musicians of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), including Henry Threadgill, Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, George Lewis, and Muhal Richard Abrams. The reissue of these records is in step with a renaissance of interest in the work of the AACM from the cultural margin that went unnoticed by most listeners during decades that almost no one associates with creativity from the corporate music industry. The favorite reissue of the year 2015 is another box set of an AACM musician, namely Roscoe Mitchell.

The breadth of the nine cds in this box set is astonishing. The music spans the gamut from jazz-influenced creative music to modern classical for small ensemble to music that is unclassifiable by any other term than non-idiomatic. Even for those with some knowledge of Roscoe Mitchell's work as a saxophonist and composer, there is a treasure trove of hidden gems in this box set. For example, Duets and Solos (1993) with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams presents unpredictable and more than compelling--engrossing--music that has absolutely no relation to anything one would associate with the traditions and trends of 1993. As if this music was created outside time and space, it still sounds very much a music of the moment because it did not incorporate sounds of the day that have subsequently become dated.

Another disc in the box, Roscoe Mitchell And The Sound And Space Ensembles (1984) includes an example of Mitchell's collaboration with tenor Thomas Buckner. There is really no other music to which one can compare the series of experiments that Buckner and Mitchell performed both as a voice and saxophone duo as well as in the company of sympathetic collaborators.

We are not going to go through every cd in the box set, but they each contain unique features. The Flow of Things (1987) by the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet (w/ Malachi Favors, Steve McCall and Jodie Christian) showcases Mitchell on saxophone with jazz elements that at least this ear hadn't heard before.

Collaborators from the AACM are all over these nine discs. In fact, Shadowgraph 5, (Sextet) (1977), an extended free abstract jazz piece and Spihumonesty (1980) are also included in the boxsets of George Lewis and Muhal Richard Abrams respectively. What this box set demonstrates as much as anything else is that Roscoe Mitchell is a giant, albeit largely unheralded, of creative music spanning the last quarter of the twentieth century and continuing to the present day. (For more recent work by Roscoe Mitchell, we refer the interested listener to his works on the French label, Rogue Art, especially the delightful No Side Effects (2006).)