Many people don’t seem to accept the fact that artists whose development is rooted in jazz can also show competence within a classic ambit. Instead, as George Lewis aptly underlines in his notes to this album, already in 1930 William Grant Still had talked about the feasibility, for those performers, of tackling “academic” music without excessive problem due to “their training in the jazz world” that would “enhance their virtuosity”, as opposed to rigidly trained instrumentalists deprived of the mental elasticity that African-American composers were gifted with according to the “dean”, the erstwhile advocator of a “Negro Symphony Orchestra”.
This CD joins the artistic personalities of pianist Abrams – a founder of AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and saxophonist Mitchell (a founding member of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago). Except for the first, splendid track – the improvised “Romu”, which pairs the respective tendencies to contemplative quietness minus the honey – the material is performed by the Janáček Philarmonic directed by Petr Kotik.
Mitchell’s “Non-Cognitive Aspects Of The City” revolves around a poem by Joseph Jarman (here characterized by the inimitable baritone accent of Thomas Buckner). Its three movements sound both austere and pensive, depending on the moment. Massive counterpoints transport the listener towards expressionist realms, but are often broken into fragments where single instruments – a bell, a flute – gleam or sing in solitude before the next scene appears. The general mood is reasonably dissonant, the atmosphere somewhat epic at times, the whole ending in a sort of overhanging mystery. Educated audiences should have no difficulty in considering this an excellent sample of Mitchell’s compositional skill.
“Mergertone”, by Abrams, meshes neoclassicism and abstraction in qualitatively adequate fashion, alternating passages where the instrumental linearity becomes intelligently angular to clusters and chordal stabs reminiscent of early XX century’s celebrated names, with curious involuntary similarities – in certain sections – to Italian composer Ottorino Respighi’s work. As in the preceding episode, the orchestra packs a solid punch when necessary. Yet the real magic lies in the ability to interpret the music’s morphing dynamics and shades, displacing the addressees in style while escaping any limitation determined by the rigidity of a “category”.