Friday, November 15, 2013

Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, Live at "A Space" 1975

I missed the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet's Live at "A Space" 1975 album when it first came out on vinyl. With Delmark's reissue series of the Sackville recordings I can hear it now (Sackville 2080) with the addition of 20 extra minutes. I am glad of that, certainly.

The quartet was one of the seminal if short lived groupings of AACM musicians dedicated to a chamber, new music sort of presentation. Of course before them was Anthony Braxton's trio with Wadada Leo Smith and Leroy Jenkins. The Art Ensemble of Chicago live in the first decade of their existence and even after that were known to devote some of their live sets and parts of their albums to more abstract, less rhythmic compositions-improvisations of course, and this quartet was a more intense exploration of that territory as Roscoe conceived it. The initial studio album on Sackville gave us a good listen to what they were doing. Live at "A Space" 1975 expands and elaborates that.

In the quartet was of course Roscoe on saxes, the legendary Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, a young and very much upcoming George Lewis on trombone in his recorded debut, and Spencer Barefield on guitar, a sensitive, attuned musician who plays an important role in the group but on this live date an extraordinarily spare one.

The bonus additions to the CD release include a version of Trane's "Naima" and versions of "Dastura" and "Nonaah". The pieces here from the original vinyl release are "Tnoona," "Music for Trombone and B-Flat Soprano", "Cards", and "Olobo".

The music gives us another look at the quartet in a live setting. George Lewis sounds quite inspired but then so does Mitchell and Abrams. There are moments of excellent interplay, such as the three-way version of "Cards", there are solo moments where group members have a chance to express something on their own--with Abrams and Lewis turning in some especially excellent moments, and there is the whole advanced vibe of the group and its abstractive expressiveness.

All of it is most definitely worth hearing, even if you know the studio date. The quartet did not exactly get on the top-40 charts in those days, and of course that was because they were too good! The CD shows you why.


  1. I notice you have this running humor about popularity circles "the quartet did not exactly get ont he top-40 charts in those days" "will this get an emmy" etc.. though this might seem contentious, I would add that unlike some jazz artists, they didn't have a multi-million dollar marketing firm behind them either. But this would get into a different article about the corruption of jazz pulbications and their advertisers.....but all things considered, Roscoe did pretty well in the US compared to many including my teacher Bill Dixon, and for me, Roscoe was the most interesting member of the Chicago Art Ensemble. I always wanted to know WHY they fired him.

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    1. Hi Eric,
      Sorry, had to delete original comment of mine to paste in again--typo! Thanks Eric and good to hear from you. The running humor is an aside based on the PBS series about jazz and how it seemed obvious to them that the music had gone into severe decline since records didn't chart as high as they did in the big band era. I am being sarcastic because of course one cannot compare the popular jazz of that era with the "art" jazz of the avant garde '70s and beyond. Roscoe got fired from the Art Ensemble? Never heard that, Eric.
      Anyway thanks again,

  3. The art ensemble fired Roscoe? Where did you get that from? Never heard that story. I do not think that is true, at all.

  4. Yes, A. I never heard of it either and I have followed the AAofC from the beginnings until now.... Of course Jarman left the band, came back and now I don't know what the lineup is. Lester and Malachi are no longer with it's Famoudou, Joseph and Roscoe left. It wouldn't make any sense that Roscoe would have been fired, especially since he has been much the spiritual if not de facto leader from the beginning...