By Hrayr Attarian
Roscoe Mitchell Sound
Roscoe Mitchell – alto saxophone, clarinet, flute, recorder
Lester Bowie – trumpet, flugelhorn, harmonica
Malachi Favors – bass
Maurice McIntyre – tenor saxophone
Lester Lashley – trombone, cello
Alvin Fielder – percussion
Woodwind player, and co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Roscoe Mitchell’s landmark 1966 Sound remains one of the essential and transformative work in music in general and improvised music in particular. In 1996 Delmark Records produced a remastered version, with alternate takes, on CD and it reissued it again in 2018.
It is almost a cliché, although completely accurate, to point out that Sound has not “aged”. Its creative impact is still fresh and raw over half a century later. Historically it was the first AACM recording and one on which Mitchell performed with two of his future bandmates in the Art Ensemble of Chicago, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors. Apart from this, rather concrete, reason the album’s importance lies in its revolutionary approach to extemporization paving the way for many others that followed Mitchell and his sextet on this path.
The exploration of silent pauses and unorthodox tonal colors together with the unhurried pace of the improvisations mark the title track. The stylistic abstractness was novel in 1966 and it remains innovative to this day as its freshness endures. The spontaneous, stream of consciousness “soliloquys” that waver between the fiery and dissonant to melancholic and haunting stimulate and move in a singular way. They are contemplative and provocative as well as passionate with a visceral punch.
Another unique feature is the utilization of small instruments that became a hallmark of Art Ensemble of Chicago. This is best heard on the whimsical “Little Suite” with the wail of harmonica, rustle of the various percussion pieces and the chime of bells. Together with the utilization of instrumentation rare in jazz like cello and recorder the group fashioned a groundbreaking and original collective voice that has become timeless.
With Sound Mitchell created an electrifying and vibrant masterpiece that, although vastly different than the music the New York Avant Garde was releasing, is no less free and equally compelling.