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CD Review: Roscoe Mitchell “Distant Radio Transmission”

By Hrayr Attarian

Roscoe Mitchell

Distant Radio Transmission

Roscoe Mitchell: soprano saxophone (1), composer; Petr Kotik: conductor (1); Thomas Buckner: vocalist (1); James Fei: saxophone (1); John C. Savage: flute (2); Catherine Lee: oboe (2); Dana Reason: piano (2); Roberta Michel: flute (3); Christa Robinson: oboe (3); Carlos Corddeio: clarinet (3); Sara Schoenbeck: bassoon (3); John Gattis: French horn (3); Seth Horvitz: programming (4).

Ostravaska Banda (1): Daniel Havel, Malgorzata Hlawsa – flute; Kamila Motková, Denisa Bílá – oboe; Lukáš Danhel, Carlos Cordeiro – clarinet; Stefanie Liedtke, Jan Soukup – bassoon; Monika Cerovská, Jan Garláthy – French horn; Andy Kozar – trumpet; William Lang – trombone; Gergely Lukács – tuba; Adam Maros, Miklos Holló, Chris Nappi – percussion; Keiko Shichijo – piano; Ivana Dohnalová: harp; Conrad Harris, Pauline Kim Harris, Eszter Krulik, Marco Cano, David Danel – violin; Nikolaus Schlierf, Juraj Madari, Liuh Wen Ting – viola; Andrej Gál, Matthias Lorenz, Juho Laitinen – violoncello; František Výrostko, Juraj Bajús – contrabass.

Saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell has been revolutionizing musical expression for over a half a century. Often mixing improvisation and compositions into a seamless, provocative hybrid, Mitchell is one of the small groups of artists who is restlessly innovative and whose oeuvre is rewardingly bold and explorative.

On Distant Radio Transmission Mitchell aptly partners with Ostravaska Banda, the Czech Republic-based international collective of soloists which specializes in the contemporary classical repertoire. The album is made up entirely of notated music with origins deep into spontaneous creation.

The title track, for instance, originated as a group extemporization between Mitchell, pianist Craig Taborn, and percussionist Kikanju Baku. Saxophonist Stephen P. Harvey, together with Mitchell and clarinetist John Ivers, transcribed and orchestrated it. Conductor Petr Kotik leads the ensemble through a dramatic and captivating interpretation that coalesces short, eerie exchanges and individual phrases into a densely woven harmonic tapestry. Mitchell’s soprano saxophone punctuates the piece with its sharp, urgent tones while vocalist Thomas Buckner enhances its theatrical aspects with his absurdist, wordless utterances.

The more introspective “Nonaah Trio,” that Mitchell wrote when commissioned by the American Composers Orchestra, is stimulatingly rendered. Flutist John C. Savage and oboist Catherine Lee provide overlapping currents of melancholic lines while pianist Dana Reason’s resonant chords chime hauntingly and with gripping dissonance.

“Cutouts for Woodwind Quintet” is a non-traditional composition that Mitchell penned specifically for improvising groups. With its extended techniques and special effects, the warm and crystalline performance glows and shimmers with a moving mix of serenity and tension.

The recording closes with the unique, three-movement “8.8.88.” Dedicated to concert pianist Joseph Kubera, the composition took over a decade to complete. Its singularity goes beyond its unusual time signatures, as it is performed on an unmanned Yamaha Disklavier that electronics artist Seth Horvitz preprogrammed. The intricate and stirring music gallops and cascades at times, reverberates with percussive chords, and has moments of angular quietude.

Once again Mitchell delivers works of unique brilliance that make for a worthwhile, albeit demanding, listening experience. It is fortunate that Mitchell has found virtuosic and equally adventurous musicians who do justice to his vision, keeping it simultaneously vibrant and alive as well as elegantly sophisticated.

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