Friday, April 8, 2011

Delmark Now Distributes Sackville Records; Roscoe Mitchell's "Quartet," 1975

Good news for modern jazz appreciators: selected titles in the legendary Sackville Records catalog will now be available through Delmark. It involves the avant jazz catalog and, so I hear, may eventually include unreleased recordings.

In keeping with the welcome turn of events I'll be looking today at one of the early Sackville masterworks, Roscoe Mitchell's 1975 live recording Quartet (Sackville SKCD2-2009). I've had this recording on vinyl since it first came out, so I view it as an old friend. For the purpose of today's article I have to step back a few paces and try to hear it like it was a new experience. I must say that it sounds as fresh today as when I first heard it.

It's a bassless-drummerless ensemble that operates in a zone that does not stress rhythmic periodicity. So one could say that it is in a kind of "new music" realm--not classical necessarily, but the kind of chamber composition-improvisation that Roscoe and his AACM associates would so successfully explore during this and successive periods. Do not expect a swinging version of "Odwalla," then. It is a difference that makes a difference and distinguishes this on the whole from a typical Art Ensemble date from the era. That is not to say that the music is any more--or any less compelling. And it IS compelling.

This is a quartet of some definite significance. There's Roscoe on soprano, alto and tenor sax, Muhal Richard Abrams, piano, George Lewis, trombone, and Spencer Barefield, guitar. Mr. Barefield is quite effective on this and one can only regret that he has been somewhat underexposed. The rest of the players all should know of course. The four have a rapport that comes out of common dedication and mutual respect.

There are four pieces on the recording; three by Mitchell ("Tnoona," "Cards," and "Olobo") and George Lewis's "Music for Trombone and B-Flat Soprano." All are in the high realm of the keenly expressed compositional-conceptual-improvisational mode for which Roscoe and company have become so deservedly known. It is a high point of the era and an interesting contrast to the Art Ensemble brand of excellence that was flourishing at the same time.

If this album is less touted than some more-or-less similar endeavors of the '70s, I believe it is because the Sackville recording has not been as readily available as some of the others over the last 35 years. With Delmark now involved in getting this out that I hope will change.

Needless to say this one is most heartily recommended.

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