There aren't many words that will put me in a bad mood - and will
make me prepare for the worst - as fast as "Specially Commissioned Pieces",
especially when this expression is used in tandem with
"World Premiere". Why? Because, far from being an expression of
"true love for the Arts", most of the time the financial backing
procedures that pay high dividends to factors such as those I've just mentioned,
won't take into consideration - or, will take them for granted, as being
basically unimportant - the actual outcome of a work of Art. An important
sub-category that's quite common, dating back from the old days, is the one
that can be defined as "extraordinary coupling": when one bets
on the chance that two things that are already very good when consumed one
at a time - say, spaghetti and jam - will taste even better when consumed
together. (In a worst-case scenario, a faithful writer will write about "very
interesting results, which derived from the strident friction of such disparate,
maybe even incompatible, elements".)
"interesting, unexpected jam sessions" are nothing new - and besides,
Max Roach played duets with both Anthony Braxton and Cecil Taylor. But at
a time when The Event - or, better said, waiting for The Event (after all,
don't we all live in the age of "pointillist time"?) - is the only
thing that really matters, everything else is of no importance. So, anticipating
a time when both Braxton and Taylor will go to the stage in the Sky to play
with Max Roach, there were those who thought it wise to have them play on
the same stage together, here on Earth. And sometimes it almost looks like
tours and couplings are planned taking into consideration people's birth
dates - and their most recent blood exams.
I was more than a bit sorry when, a few years ago, I happened to read about
"extraordinary collaboration" involving Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker,
and various musicians going under the name Transatlantic Art Ensemble (that's
quite clear...). And I was sorry precisely because, both as instrumentalists
and impro-composers, Mitchell and Parker have been at the top of my list
since practically forever. Which made my deep disappointment for the first
of the two albums released by this "extraordinary collaboration" hurt
in the course of some phone conversations at the beginning of 2004, the
aforementioned Ensemble rehearsed for a few days in Munich, in September.
On the 10th the ensemble, under Parker's leadership, played their first
concert, with the Mitchell material being performed in the course of the
following night. The names are quite well-known: Mitchell (performing on
alto and soprano sax) called frequent collaborators Tani
Tabbal (drums and percussion), Jaribu Shahid (double bass), Craig Taborn
(piano), Corey Wilkes (trumpet and flugelhorn), Anders Svanoe (alto and
baritone sax) and Nils Bultmann (viola), while Evan Parker (here on soprano
and tenor sax) chose Neil Metcalfe (flute), John Rangecroft (clarinet),
Philipp Wachsmann (violin), Marcio Mattos (cello), Barry Guy (double bass)
and Paul Lytton (drums and percussion).
last year under Mitchell's name, Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3
left me cold. At eighty minutes, it was miles too long - eliminating the
first and last tracks immediately gave the album a much-needed sense of
levity. But it was the whole that puzzled me. And even taking the individual
performances into account, with the main exception of a tenor solo by Parker
and one by Svanoe on baritone, there was nothing really noteworthy. By
the way, my impression hasn't changed since the time I wrote my review.
can only formulate conjectures as per the reasons for such a disaster,
which made me even more curious about the soon-to-be-released album under
Parker's name. Having listened to the album for some time now, I've come
to the conclusion - which can be reasonably described as "accurate
and definitive" - that it's indeed quite good.
is a nice album, required listening. By means of hypothetical reasoning,
I'd say that Parker has managed to make better use of the musicians than
Mitchell - this being true of both "one's own", and their Transatlantic
counterparts. Maybe - just maybe, OK? - Parker's plan was a bit less ambitious
than Mitchell's, but more "realistic"; maybe (what I perceive
as) a lower degree of responsibility on the part of the musicians made
for a more
"coherent" whole?, while for the listener it's easier to grasp
and enjoy. It's also true that this time Parker formulated more detailed
instructions than in the past, that the materials took shape inside a framework
thanks to (what to me sounds like) a careful editing work: many stop moments,
fade ins/outs, contrasting colours, all sound as being ex post. There are
also some "familiar effects" at the arranging stage - cadences,
climaxes, instrumental "backings" - which make soloists stand out
more; there's also a careful, crucial, relationship between the main instrumental
voices and the background parts. All could be due to Parker's long leadership
of the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.
CD's structure is quite clear: a brief Overture, and a Finale where musicians
briefly solo; the main part of the album presents six tracks, each featuring
two different soloists - one for each Transatlantic side - in a careful
and ever-changing dialogue with the ensemble. In so differently from its "twin"
CD, here Steve Lake's liner notes are quite thorough and precise (one really
tiny exception being his "slip of the pen" about the flute soloist
on Furrows 1, who is obviously Neil Metcalfe, not John Rangecroft): a fact
that will make it easier for the attentive listener to enjoy (the structure
of) the work. A very important thing, the recorded sound is excellent.
and tympani open Overture, then flute, piano, violin, viola, clarinet,
muted trumpet... It sounds almost like a minuet, and a tuning-up. Unison
chords bring it to its close.
1 features flute and piano as soloists. Nice work from the strings, and
"still time" atmosphere that reminded me quite a bit of Mitchell's
work. The closing part, with those strings and a piano playing
"staccato", made me think of Anthony Davis and his mid-sized ensemble,
2 has a quiet dialogue between the violin and the viola, glissando notes,
and an appropriate strings and winds comment in the background. The close
3 fades in... with clarinet, piano, strings, double bass. One soloist on
this track is the cello, playing very nice harmonics, with a string background.
Nice clarinet, playing "held" notes, and a grieving double bass.
Then, piano, flute, and cello play a chamber-style trio. At 7' 19" there's
an abrupt change (a cut?), then an Ellingtonian-sounding orchestration;
a fast, swinging tempo; an alto sax solo, with backing from a "be-bop
piano"; the close is for the whole orchestra, playing unison.
4 has two soloists: the clarinet (echoes of Gershwin?), and an agitated
trumpet, the latter played under Mitchell's direction. The clarinet solo
is quite meditative, with a "pastoral" background from the ensemble.
After the trumpet solo, the track ends on a "held" trumpet note.
5 has the two double basses working as soloists. A slow start (which reminded
me a little bit of 1984). At about 3' we have a slow, two-handed piano
ostinato. Then strings, double basses again, again the piano ostinato,
this time gradually accelerating. Nice close, played "smorzando".
6 has Parker and Mitchell as soloists. After a sudden, "heroic",
start, Parker plays a soprano solo, which reminded me of a "Sardinian
reed". Then everything gets hotter, preparing the right mood for the
entrance of Mitchell's alto. Again, we have a piano ostinato, quite audible
well before 5', cymbals at 5' 18", then Mitchell at 5' 49". The
piece ends quite classically, with some "fanfarette", boom-booms
from the drums, and an appropriate little theme.
fades in, then, in a fast pace, the instruments solo, interrupted only
by very brief ensemble moments. Nice close, played "tutti".
© Beppe Colli 2008
CloudsandClocks.net | Apr. 3, 2008