Roscoe Mitchell Orchestra and Space Trio: At The Fault Zone Festival 

Avant-garde jazz saxophonist and Darius Milhaud successor approaches jazz-related composition via avant-garde classical techniques


Roscoe Mitchell is Emeritus Chair of Composition at Mills College, a position once held by Darius Milhaud. That fact stresses his connections with contemporary Western art music, which this release reiterates. He’s a jazz improviser who works in areas that listeners haven’t normally associated with African-American musicians – despite evidence of a long connection between the musics, going back to Ellington and indeed Dvorak.

The most compelling track is the longest: Distant Radio Transmission Fault Zone, performed by Mitchell’s 30 Piece Orchestra. It’s synthesised by James Fei, from source material that comes from transcriptions. It features use of unisons – waves and traces that are nearly congruent. It begins with what could be mistaken for feedback, and baritone Tom Buckner sounds at times a bit like vocalising from The Goon Show. The composition is from Mitchell’s Conversations For Orchestra series, which uses as generative material transcriptions of free improvisations recorded by Mitchell.

From the same series is Sustain and Run II, with Mitchell on alto, James Fei on synth, vocalist Thomas Buckner and 30-piece orchestra. The duet Cards In 3D Colours (2020) was commissioned by pianist Sarah Cahill and violinist Kate Stenberg. It’s through-composed, using material for improvisers developed as part of Mitchell’s Cards series. In the improvisatory sections, performers work from notated material on cards.

Bookending the album are two recordings from Mitchell’s Space Trio, made in the same location the day before the festival. This is one of Mitchell’s longest-standing collaborations, dating from his early work with Buckner and the late Gerald Oshita. Here, Scott Robinson – on woodwinds, including his “slide saxophone” – is in Oshita’s place. These two pieces prefigure the interplay of these voices as later embedded in orchestral textures. It’s a fascinating survey of the work of a major figure in contemporary improvisation and composition.

You’ll Be There In Denim; Cards in 3D Colours; Sustain And Run II; Distant Radio Transmission Fault Zone; On The Whips Of The Wind (56.23)
Collectively, Roscoe Mitchell (as); James Fei (syn); Thomas Buckner (v); Sarah Cahill (p); Kate Stenberg (vn); 30-piece orchestra. No date given.
Wide Hive Records 0371