By Peter Margasak | Published January 2018
Few composers and improvisers have maintained a creative curiosity and rigor like Roscoe Mitchell, who at 77 seems unstoppable. Encountering an increasing number of commissions has led the reedist to tap into the potential bounty embedded in improvisation efforts from his past, and the music on Discussions was sparked by a pair of spontaneous recordings made in 2014 with pianist Craig Taborn and percussionist Kikanju Baku. Scholar Paul Steinbeck enlisted a number of graduate students to transcribe material from those trio albums, and with a raft of Bay Area musicians, Mitchell oversaw the birth of powerful new pieces codified from improvisations.
On most of these works Mitchell sits out, allowing the transcribed passages to blossom and teasing out dark-hued melodic shapes that dart by in an instant within the source material, but here linger among the lovely, haunting orchestrations. While “I’ll See You Out There” hangs in the air ominously, “Cracked Roses” ripples with a percussive thrust and the dance of pointillistic brass and string stabs. The new collection does include some bracing improvised material, including two snaking duets between Mitchell, on sopranino, and flutist Wilfrido Terrazas. And two orchestral improvisations flow with refreshing clarity, as the ensemble members reveal strong listening skills and refined interactions, with Mitchell’s searing lines frequently functioning like a high-powered ashlight guiding the performance forward.
Discussions: Cascade; I’ll See You Out There; Discussions I; Cracked Roses; Discussions II; Frenzy House; Home Screen; Who Dat. (65:46)
Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell, sopranino saxophone; Steed Cowart, conductor; Wilfrido Terrazas, flutes; James Fei, electronics; Stacey Pelinka, flute; Jesse Barrett, oboe; Rachel Condry, clarinet, bass clarinet; Erin Irvine, bassoon; William Harvey, trumpet; Andrew Strain, trombone; Tiffany Bayly, tuba; William Winant, Scott Siler, percussion; Jordan Glenn, drum set; Brett Carso, piano; Roy T. Malan, Mia Bella D’Augelli, violins; Clio Tilton, viola; Crystal Pascucci, cello; Richard Worn, bass.