"If, like yours truly, you are more familiar with multi-reedman Michell's more extroverted contributions to countless dates with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, you will find After Fallen Leaves a considerably more pensive (though no less entrancing) display of his compositional and interpretive talents... This is a beautiful way to spend one's musical listening time."
Reuben Jackson, Jazz Times, April 1993
"After Fallen Leaves": A journey to Sweden by the major American composer-saxophonist-multiple woodwind improviser, Roscoe Mitchell, in the autumn of 1989. There he rehearsed with the Sweden-based Brus Trio, gifted, versatile free jazz artists who quickly became proficient in his unique musics; as a quartet they played concerts in Stockholm and in northern Sweden, then at the end of October returned to Stockholm to record this remarkable disc. The nights were long and the season was changing, with "some good days and some not so good, though it wasn't really hitter yet," says Mitchell. Like the unpredictable season, the quartet's music also offers highly diverse, changing dispositions – pastoral peace, humor, severity, detachment and attachment, and so on – a variety that's certainly increasingly characteristic of Mitchell's art.
It's important that these are not simply the time-honored traveling-soloist-plus-pickup-accompaniment performances, but true quartet performances. "That was a good thing to have happen," Mitchell says. "I like people who can perform in several idioms, and deal with the reeds and stuff, and be up on a certain level technically for certain types of compositions – people who really want to be in full control of their concentrated power, to project what they're doing. These are interesting musicians – they study that kind of thing." In fact, Mitchell has not always had the advantage of such confident, accomplished players to perform his works, so Brus Trio's responsiveness is especially welcome.
The threesome's control, concentration, projection, and mastery of idioms has been earned through years of working and setting challenges together. Producer Keith Knox, who brought Mitchell and the trio together, offers biographical information about these artists. Gilbert Matthews (born 1943) was an established guitarist in his home city, Capetown, South Africa, when a clubowner asked him to take the place of an absent drummer; Matthews did, and a successful, wholly new career in music began. Like some others of that country's finest musicians before him, Matthews wearied of attempting to create music amidst apartheid's official harrassment, and left in 1974, settling in Sweden; Abdullah lbrahim, Chris McGregor, Archie Shepp, Sarah Vaughan and Ray Charles are among those with whom he's subsequently drummed.
Meanwhile, pianist Arne Forsen (born 1960, Umeå, Sweden) and bassist Ulf Åkerhielm (born 1962, Sundsvall, Sweden) were growing up with jazz, playing it in their youth – Åkerhielm was a tenor sax "boy wonder" at three Pori (Finland) Jazz Festivals – and they met when both were studying classical music at Kapellsburg music school in Härnösand, Sweden. By 1979 they were appearing as a duo, startling audiences with their "outside" jazz, and scuffling for engagements in Stockholm, Two years later, Matthews heard them in a club and played with them informally; the experience was so stimulating to all that they began Brus Trio.
Usually original compositions, most often Forsén's, provide the takeoff for the trio's free flights, though in two earlier recordings they joined with lyrical saxophonists John Tchicai and Charles Tyler. Clearly, Brus Trio's eight years' experience in freely improvising together has brought vigor and sensitivity to MitchelI's compositions. For instance, Mr. Freddie is in a perfect, medium-up tempo for swinging – what Von Freeman has called "the Chicago tempo" – and the tense, eager, ahead-of-the-beat bass of Åkerhielm provides irresistible propulsion. Forsén's superb development of ideas in his piano solo results in a hard-edged line moving with a radical sense of drama, before Matthews, who is truly a "listening" drummer, at last breaks loose, enthusiastic assertion balanced by strong formal instincts. All of this is extension and complement to Mitchell's happy theme and wonderful alto solo. As the great bassist Wilbur Ware used to say, "Let's play this music together."
The trio's dynamic and linear sensitivity to Mitchell's ideas is the subtle feature that makes this music flow, a sensitivity that's crucial to Sing. The music's constituent elements – color, harmony, rhythm, melody – are a step removed from conventional associations, as the work evolves to Mitchell's long-toned alto sax melody.
While Forsén's piano solo develops largely in rhythmic terms, to the complex, dancing accompaniment of Åkerhielm and Matthews, the composition's essential innocence is never violated. And in many ways Brus Trio's most impressive work on this disc is its freedom within the medium of free space as they interpret Mitchell's most unique works, presenting the interaction of sounds amid silence with uncommon clarity and responsiveness. The flowing quality of these performances, then, is their most pleasing feature.
Before meeting Brus Trio, Mitchell had heard them on record and knew they could meet his music's demands. The new kind of ensemble that he had brought to jazz in the 1960s, which eventually became the Art Ensemble of Chicago, thoroughly refreshed the art form by drawing on all of its resources, past, present, and future. Subsequently, he began isolating and investigating the fundamental elements of music, especially sound and its properties, and critic Larry Kart's comments on Mitchell's LRG/The Maze/S II Examples (Chief CD) could apply to much of Mitchell's 1970s works: "Harmony is nonexistent, as are melody and rhythm in the sense of variations from any norm outside the world of the piece. Instead, we hear timbre and the shape of phrases in space, with the space between each shape always clearly defined... he is discovering that when music is truly broken down into its component parts, a new order can emerge.
While Roscoe Mitchell continued to explore along these lines in the 1980s, his interests expanded in other directions also. The lyrical, melodic, swinging works that appear here are also typical of his present work, and a special advantage of the extended time available to compact discs is the opportunity to hear a wider variety of Mitchell musics than was hitherto possible in a single document. Apart from his works with his Sound, Space, and Chamber Ensembles, and his concert adventures with Cecil Taylor, Muhal Richard Abrams, and Steve Lacy, among others, his 1980s Quartet calls for special mention. The sad passing of his longtime associate, drummer Steve McCall, concluded the Quartet's efforts, but its explorations (note Mitchell's 1986 Black Saint album The Flow Of Things) were to blossom forth into the musics that the Mitchell-Brus Trio quartet presents here.
To look at the performances in order, then:
Sing first appeared in the 1981 Mitchell Sound Ensemble release Snurdy McGurdy and her Dancin' Shoes (Nessa LP); in this colorful, highly decorated new version, Mitchell appears first on flute, then on alto sax.
The 55th Street point of Lake Michigan, in the heart of Chicago, is a magnet for swimmers, sunbathers, picnickers, and others. "I thought of sitting there on a nice warm day, and usually the drummers were playing and a lot of people were throwing balls or sitting and watching the lake – a lot of gaiety," says Mitchell. The isolated tones of his soprano sax and the other, distant, instruments here, all played very softly, present a detached individual's mood, with the faintest hint of sly expectancy on A Lovely Day at the Point.
From such soft, spaced sounds to the wild freakout of The Reverend Frank Wright is a long step indeed. Mitchell recalls meeting Wright in 1968, when the bold tenor saxman was in Cecil Taylor's band, which shared a California concert with the Mitchell-Lester Bowie-Malachi Favors trio – "We were out there just barnstorming, the way we usually did."
Amid the dense ferocity here, note how Mitchell's low, blatted, repeated tenor sax figure is the cell motive for a thorny solo.
And Then There Was Peace is not exactly serene – the quartet's reflections include dark shadings. The work dates from 1962, when Mitchell led a pianoless quartet in Chicago. "Studying some of the stuff that we were doing back then is just a wealth of information."
Mitchell says that Everett Sloane is a fictional character but The Two Faces of Everett Sloane is not really a Dr Jekyll-Mr. Hyde shocker. Rather, one face is portrayed in near cubist fashion with broken sounds, and the other face is portrayed in an incredibly long, many noted, involved soprano sax phrase.
After Fallen Leaves is "improvised off certain theme lines," with the players creating in separate, independent parts that nevertheless share a pastoral mood; Mitchell is heard first on flute, then in a long-noted tenor sax melody.
And then, wham! A big, powerful alto sax tone over roiling accompaniment introduces Mr Freddie, which has no links to the early blues standard of that title by Freddie Shayne. Rather, this 1962 song honors Mitchell's trumpeter of those days, Fred Berry; Mitchell's wondrously melodic solo recalls his links to early Ornette Coleman, however, bathed in the chemicals of Mitchell's own intensity and cruel humor.
Come Gather Some Things and Play With The Whistler are improvised to a "formula" that uses space and many sounds: "It's supposed to sound like a composition. In improvisation on a high level, you're completely aware of every part, including yourself." It recalls his sound collages of LRG and The Maze, with a series of events from a few seconds to a couple of minutes long, which add a piano to the free motions of multi-wood-wind-string-percussion sounds in space. Forsén, who ranges from percussive to almost melodic in his brief not-phrases, often proves a humanizing element as he lends irregular degrees of harmony to the others' ever-changing sonorities: a sensitive, responsive improvising quartet indeed.
Since these recording sessions, Mitchell has continued to tour and record widely with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, including sessions with South African musicians, Cecil Taylor, and Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy. He's also composed for pianist Joseph Kubera and for his own several groups, and is planning collaborations with Henry Threadgill and performances with Douglas Ewart's Clarinet Choir.
He continues to teach at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, his home city, where he plans to start a large repertory ensemble to perform music of "contemporary composers, like Ornette Coleman, Muhal Richards Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, and on and on." Hopefully, there will be future collaborations with the Brus Trio, too, for the stimulating success of After Fallen Leaves, its vitality; flow, and abundantly shared feelings, surely call for more.
1. Sing 15:23
2. A Lovely Day at the Point 04:41
3. The Reverend Frank Wright 07:06
4. And Then There Was Peace 04:51
5. The Two Faces of Everett Sloane 03:30
6. After Fallen Leaves 08:01
7. Mr Freddie 04:34
8. Come Gather Some Things 11:58
9. Play with the Whistler 07:25
Roscoe Mitchell flute, alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax
Arne Forsén piano
Ulf Åkerhielm bass
Gilbert Matthews drums, gongs, chimes, percussion