Creation and evolution
71-year-old free-jazz legend Roscoe Mitchell leads by example
Published: October 13, 2011
7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 17
Timucua White House
2000 S. Summerlin Ave.
There are dozens of appropriate ways to be introduced to Roscoe Mitchell’s music, because over the course of his 40-plus years in music, Mitchell has introduced listeners to dozens of different ways to listen to music. His days as one of the earliest members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (essentially the hub of Chicago’s free-jazz scene in the ’60s, which has also been home to titans like Muhal Richard Abrams, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Amina Claudine Myers, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and many others) led to his founding of the Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Mitchell, the Art Ensemble and the AACM provided a major counterweight to New York’s new-jazz explosion, simultaneously imparting a more blatant Afrocentrism (the Art Ensemble’s motto: “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”) and a more pronounced acknowledgment of modern European music, forcing compositional restrictions on their explosive improvisations. However, beyond those foundational roles – which continue to this day – Mitchell’s artistic life outside the Art Ensemble has been just as intriguing.
Just listen to “Beyond Neptune,” an 18-minute piece from Mitchell’s 2004 album, Solo . The multi-instrumentalist packs in a remarkable number of ideas into the cut – he does it all with a single soprano saxophone, no less – with a slow construction of themes that eventually yields a full six minutes of dynamic and insistent playing, relentlessly powered by the 67-year-old master’s skillful circular breathing.
It’s astounding not just for its fresh, daring sound, but also because it’s one of 38 (!) tracks on the triple-disc set. Incredibly, Solo  is one of 17 albums that Mitchell – who is now 71 – has made since the turn of the century.
Yes, Roscoe Mitchell is a legend, and had he never appeared on another album after, say, 1980’s Art Ensemble of Chicago album Urban Bushmen, his place in the jazz pantheon would be well-preserved. But Mitchell is a player overflowing with intelligent and serious ideas about music, endlessly creative ways to address them, and the boundless talent to bring them to life; that makes him the best kind of legend – one who’s not only living, but also alive.
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