Label: Nessa Records – N-14/15
Format: 2 × Vinyl, LP, Album / Country: US / Released: 1978
Style: Free Jazz, Free Improvisation
A/B - "L-R-G" recorded August 7, 1978, at Van Gelder Recording Studio.
C - "The Maze" recorded July 27, 1978, at Columbia Studios.
D - "S II Examples" recorded August 17, 1978, at Streetville Studios.
Artwork – Arnold A. Martin
Composed By – Roscoe Mitchell
Photography By – Ann Nessa
Producer – Chuck Nessa
A - L-R-G (Part One) .......... 18:49
B - L-R-G (Part Two) .......... 17:40
ROSCOE MITCHELL – Piccolo Flute, Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, Soprano Saxophone, Alto Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone, Baritone Saxophone, Bass Saxophone
LEO SMITH – Trumpet, Trumpet [Pocket Trumpet], Flugelhorn
GEORGE LEWIS – Tuba [Wagner Tuba], Sousaphone, Trombone [Alto], Trombone [Tenor]
(Engineer – Rudy Van Gelder)
C - The Maze ..........20:40
JOSEPH JARMAN – Bells, Xylophone [Balafon], Horns [Bike Horns, Conch Shell], Cymbal [Cymbal, Chinese, Cymbal Rack], Congas [Drums], Bells [Hand Bells], Drums, Gong, Marimba, Percussion [Tom Tom], Vibraphone, Gong [Temple Gong]
ANTHONY BRAXTON – Drums [Bass, Snare], Cymbal, Glockenspiel, Percussion [Garbage Can Machine, Sloshing Can Machine, Wash Tub], Marimba [Marimba, Marimba Can Machine], Bells [Orchestra Bells], Xylophone
MALACHI FAVORS – Drums [Log Drum], Gong, Xylophone [Balafon], Percussion [Cans], Bells [Hand Bells], Shaker, Horns [Seal Horn], Tambourine, Gong [Temple Gong], Zither
THURMAN BARKER – Drums, Cowbell, Congas [Conga Drum], Gong, Glockenspiel, Bells [Hand Bells], Marimba, Slapstick, Triangle, Whistle
DON MOYE – Drums, Xylophone [Balafon], Cowbell, Congas [Drums], Cymbal [Cymbal Rack], Gong [Gong, Temple Gong], Bells [Hand Bells], Horns [Little Horns], Marimba, Triangle, Percussion [Wood Blocks]
ROSCOE MITCHELL – Glockenspiel [Buggle], Horns [Bicycle], Xylophone [Balafon], Cowbell [Cowbells, Swiss Cowbells, Swinging Swiss Cowbells], Cymbal [Cymbal, Finger Cymbal, Tuned Cymbals, Zizzle Cymbals], Congas [Drum], Percussion [Cycle Sprocket, Dinner Chimes, Frying Pans, Thunder Sheet, Temple Blocks, Wood Blocks, Wood Desk], Gong, Bells [Dome Bell, Hanging Bell, Large Swinging Bell, Swinging Bells], Horns [Press Horn], Triangle
HENRY THREADGILL – Gong [Gong, Cymbal Gongs], Cymbal [Finger Cymbal], Percussion [Garbage Can Bottoms, Hubkaphone, Rhythm Sticks], Bells [Hand Bells], Brass [Plumbing Brass], Dulcimer
DOUGLAS EWART – Percussion [Bamboo Table], Cymbal [Cymbal, Zizzle Cymbal], Cowbell [Cowbells, Wooden], Glockenspiel [Large, Small], Bells [Door Bell, Hanging Bells, Little Bells, Winding Bell], Gong, Marimba, Xylophone [Metal]
(Engineer – Don Puluse)
D - S II Examples .......... 17:15
ROSCOE MITCHELL – Soprano Saxophone
(Engineer – Mark Rubenstein)
Roscoe Mitchell is mostly, and rightly, reckoned with his work as a leading member of the hardscrabble, meta-instrumental, and enormously influential avant-garde jazz group Art Ensemble of Chicago. However, Mitchell also owns a considerable stake in composed music of a kind considerable as classical, which makes use of written materials to drive determinate kinds of improvisation, or even some non-improvised interpretation in the conventional sense. Mitchell's serious work in so-called "serious music" was recognized at the academic level in 2007, when Mitchell was named to the Darius Milhaud Chair of composition at Mills College in Oakland, and many writers date Mitchell's shift of focus to the 1990s when he began to work with such non-jazz, creative musicians as classically trained vocalist Thomas Buckner. However, for Mitchell, contact with classical music disciplines goes back to his very early days as a student in Germany. Nessa's LP Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples documents a period in 1978, when Mitchell was beginning to work on his composed strategies with usual suspect figures from the jazz world, some from the Art Ensemble itself.
In 1978, Michigan-based indie Nessa Records had almost exclusive access to Mitchell and his associates, as the Art Ensemble of Chicago had barely begun its association with ECM -- the first fruits of which did not appear until 1979 -- and the group was reaching the end of a five-year hiatus that also witnessed the collapse of some of the labels it recorded for. The Maze brings the entire Art Ensemble membership, minus Lester Bowie, and other free jazz luminaries such as Anthony Braxton and Henry Threadgill, to serve as percussionists. Rather than being a rattletrap barrage of percussion as one might expect, The Maze is a carefully controlled polyphonic texture of percussion sounds that is mostly vertical and moves forward in a deliberate progression. The quality of the sound in this 1978 recording is astounding, made at the 30th Street Studio belonging to CBS Records. L-R-G (i.e., "L"eo Smith, "R"oscoe Mitchell, and "G"eorge Lewis), brings this high-powered trio of improvisers into contact with an orchestra's wealth of instruments, divided by range and type: woodwinds for Mitchell, high and low brass, respectively, for Smith and Lewis. Like The Maze, this is a slowly forward-evolving catalog of special sounds; however, in this case the sounds are specific to the players involved. S II Examples, likewise, began as a trio for soprano saxophones for Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and Anthony Braxton, but Mitchell realized his curved soprano provided him with some additional flexibility that the straight saxes favored and the others did not. So he decided to record it as a solo piece, and it is an extraordinary one; Mitchell's microcosmic understanding of gradations of tone is virtually encyclopedic, and the amount of wiggle room he has between two half steps is such that when he plays three or four "regular" notes by way of transition, it's an event.
In a superficial sense, Nessa's LP Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples does not represent a radical departure from Mitchell's work as a jazz musician, as does, say, Skies of America does for Ornette Coleman; those who follow Mitchell's work in jazz will well recognize him in comfortable voice here. Nevertheless, for listeners attuned to contemporary art music coming to Roscoe Mitchell with little or no knowledge of his work with the Art Ensemble of Chicago should likewise easily understand how his rigorous approach in organizing improvised elements fits in with the rest of the classical avant-garde. Beyond that, Nessa's vinyl Roscoe Mitchell/L-R-G, The Maze, S II Examples is a splendidly recorded, and inasmuch as Roscoe Mitchell as classical composer is concerned, this is very close to where it truly starts.
Review by Uncle Dave Lewis
If you find it, buy this album!