Music review: Roscoe Mitchell – Composition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3

By , November 30, 2008

compositionComposition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3
By Roscoe Mitchell, 2007

I was happy to discover Roscoe Mitchell’s Composition / Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 in our stacks. Few names are more prominent in the history of improvised music than Mitchell’s. Founder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, one of free jazz’s most high profile groups, Mitchell was commissioned by the city of Munich to compose a piece for a symposium on improvised music being held at Ludwig Maximillian University. Together with Evan Parker, a sax improv legend in he his own right, they hand picked twelve other prominent players from around the world for a group they dubbed “The Transatlantic Art Ensemble.” Besides a full range of saxophones, the group included trumpet, clarinet, flute, a string section, piano, two basses and two percussionists.

As the title implies the piece is part composed and part improvised. Mitchell has always had a tendency towards European atonalism more so that other free jazz composers. Yet for every nod to concert hall there is one to the club. Sometimes this record actually swings, but it is a fever dance, the rhythm is there but the melody is in an offkey modality. The unique instrumentation lends itself to such juxtapositions. As does the Mitchell’s method of controlled improvisation: sometimes asking players to improv on a limited number of notes; sometimes giving players six cards with scored motifs and asking players to improvise around those motifs; sometimes whole sections traditionally scored with space for individual solo improvisation.

Though this piece, as with most Mitchell’s music, is all about creating tension, such tension has no reference point without a little release. There are fiery moments. Free jazz isn’t free you know? Someone has to burn. Besides Composition / Improvistion Nos 1,2 & 3, which is attributed to Mitchell as the sole composer, the library owns a handful of albums by Art Ensemble of Chicago which are definitely more hi-tempo jazz oriented affairs with a bit of surrealist Africana thrown in to really subvert your expectations.

- Bryan

Popmatic Podcast December 2008

By , November 24, 2008

Bryan and Crystal feature music by Bang On a Can and Tinariwen. Julie and Amanda review books by Sarah Bird and Nicolas Sparks. Last but not least, Bill and Crystal turn you on to some movies you may have missed: What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? and I’m Not Scared.

Music review: Bob Dylan – Tell Tale Signs

By , November 15, 2008

telltaleBob Dylan: Bootleg Series Vol. 8:  Tell Tale Signs: rare and unreleased  1989-2006
By Bob Dylan, 2008

4 stars

I really like this fine two disc collection of outtakes, live tracks and alternate versions of songs from a 17-year period of fertility, spanning Oh Mercy through Time Out of Mind.  I’ll admit the haggard, shadowy voiced Dylan of late Modern Times era was not my favorite Bob, so these tracks are often really refreshing and illuminating. I sometimes feel they are indeed “better” than the originally released versions, such as the plain acoustic ballad “Most of the Time”. A very listenable, flowing collection – full of gems.  Thanks  Bob!

- Phil

Music review: Burial – Untrue

By , November 5, 2008

By Burial, 2007

4 stars

Burial is an anonymous London techno producer who has received massive hype within electronic music circles. Burial’s second full length Untrue was atop many a critic’s list last year, but some listeners may have been put off by the pidgeonholing genre tag “dubstep.” That is a hybrid dub and British house music. In Burial’s case needless genre politics and “I’m more true than you” scene posturing has obscured some wicked tracks that deserve a broader stateside audience. Present are the off kilter rhythms of 2 step garage, and the repetitive vocal samples of dub. These elements can be found in most dubstep productions, but Burial results are far more affecting. Few musicians can better simulate the emotional impact of urban blight. Especially via his of use static, pops, and warped fragmented vocal hooks. He has taken the detritus the world around him, a world of soiled concrete and broken windows, and recycled it into something haunting. Far too often, producers employ plunderphonic methods to create absurdist mash-ups, the only goal of which is to make you laugh. Burial is trying to make you cry. If you enjoy the atmospheric mood music of Radiohead & Portishead you should definitely give Burial a spin. The library has Untrue and his first self-titled album as well. Burial recently broke his anonymous persona and leaked his real name via his myspace page. I wonder if admitting he’s a real live human will effect his mystique?

- Bryan

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