Something in the Air: Interpreting Roscoe Mitchell’s Challenging and Influential Music

Ken Waxman, The WholeNote, no 22:2, 1 octobre 2016

Confirming one again the continued vitality of the first generation of Free Music avatars, at 76, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell is still innovating with divergent aspects of, instrumentation and arrangements. One demonstration of this occurs Sunday October 16, when he leads a mixed, 15-member, Montréal-Toronto ensembles through several of his composition a part of the Music Gallery’s annual X-Avant Festival. (…)

About half the musicians interpreting Mitchell’s Music Gallery compositions reside in Montréal. Some are part of Ensemble SuperMusique. Les accords intuitifs features a large group of improvisers playing compositions by alto saxophonist/vocalist Joane Hétu and guitarist Bernard Falaise, as well a contemporary pieces by violinist Malcolm Goldstein and two mid-1970s scores by Montréalers Yves Bouliane and Raymond Gervais. All tracks are moored in the territory where group concert music conventions, free-form soloing and rock-music tempos collide. Like researchers experimenting with space medicine discovering unexpected futuristic tropes, new currents arise when Martin Tétrault’s turntables, Vergil Sharkya’s synthesizer and Alexandre St-Onge or Nicolas Caloia’s electric basses are given leeway. Although the stop-time climaxes, cycling marches and the semi-serious vocalizing on Hétu’s Pour ne pas désespérer seul appear related more to Frank Zappa then Iannis Xenakis, Mitchell would recognize asides created by percussive AEC-pioneered little instruments, as well as sharpened saxophone cries that play off against Scott Thomason’s plunger trombone and Craig Pedersen’s soaring trumpet. Unsurprisingly, although Goldstein’s Jeux de cartes expands and contracts with tremolo flutters prodded by Danielle Palardy Roger and Isaiah Ceccarelli’s percussion, most of the crackling excitement is engendered by Joshua Zubot’s violin glissandi. Another stand-out performance is Gervais’ title track. Uncommonly contemporary, the piece mixes overhanging crescendos growled by the entire ensemble with spidery contrasts between the solo strategies of St-Onge and acoustic bassist Aaron Lumley. The ending is left unresolved as cymbal clanking finality is subverted by synthesizer squeaks and guitar string pops. (…)

All tracks are moored in the territory where group concert music conventions, free-form soloing and rock-music tempi collide.