Steve Lacy once posited that the difference between an improviser and a composer is that the latter has abundant time to decide what to communicate musically with ten seconds whereas the former simply has ten seconds. It remains a pithy rejoinder to a strawman conundrum that’s dogged the intersection between the two idioms for decades. But what of the scenarios where improvisation actually serves as the basis for composition? Roscoe Mitchell explores that compelling overlap on Ride the Wind, a second document of investigations following last year’s at once similar and yet wholly separate Discussions on the Wide Hive label.
For the previous project Mitchell balanced orchestral transcriptions of earlier improvisations with new collective improvisations for the assembled large ensemble. The results revealed a captivating merger of the forms, although his own incendiary playing was limited to just several of the contexts leaving flautist Wilfrido Terrazas the welcome latitude to almost steal the show. Here, he exercises even more restraint on the playing end, appearing only in an extended, frenzied sopranino salvo on “They Rode for Them – Part Two” and leaving the disc’s remaining six pieces to the nineteen-piece Montreal-Toronto Art Orchestra. The deference is another indication of how seriously he takes the ensemble focus of the work.
Essayist Stuart Broomer drafts an edifying accounting of the session details in the accompanying notes and it’s immediately apparent that Mitchell’s canvas is different even though it pulls primarily from the same provenance as its predecessor, the series of recorded improvisations he engaged in with pianist Craig Taborn and percussionist Kikanju Baku from 2013 and later transcribed by a cadre of close colleagues. Mitchell handles the majority of orchestrations himself starting with swelling fugue-like waves of “They Rode for Them” that give way to an feathery improvisation by altoist Yves Charuest over shimmer color field conjured by the orchestra in sections.
“Splatter” builds from forceful collisions between percussion, strings, reeds and brass, which roil and swirl together in a textured centripetal spin. The title piece erupts with fanfare expansiveness before receding and dispersing into a succession of individual voices. Flimsy idiomatic descriptors like jazz, classical and the like are irrelevant to the proceedings, replaced by the umbrella adjectival phrase of organized and energized sound. The arboreal murmurings of “RUB” recall the Art Ensemble’s expeditions with “little instruments” while “Shards and Lemons” brings a delightful measure of dry humor in the timbre juxtaposition of disparate orchestral constituencies.
The disc caps with a quartet arrangement of the pivotal “Nonaah”, a piece Mitchell first performed nearly forty-five years ago. It’s one of the anchors of his oeuvre and the assembled team of three reedists and single bassist makes the rondo theme at the piece’s center both sing and shout before switching tacks to layered legato drones and icy overtones. As is the Nessa label hallmark, accompanying packaging and content is top-notch with copious session photos and the aforementioned deep dive annotations. Temporal considerations both immediate and indefinite converge to make this set another memorable entry in Mitchell’s copious catalog of momentous achievements.
Derek Taylor / Dusted Magazine
01 They Rode For Them - part 1 [12:51]
02 Splatter [04:34]
03 Ride The Wind [07:12]
04 They Rode For Them - part 2 [06:02]
05 Rub [07:06]
06 Shards And Lemons [12:34]
07 Nonaah [05:27]