Roscoe Mitchell, Not Yet

Seth Colter Walls

By Seth Colter Walls

on 06.07.13 in Reviews

This is Roscoe Mitchell’s finest classical album yet. And, interestingly, it’s one on which his own horn playing is absent; he’s intent on fully inhabiting the role of composer. It’s no secret how a modern conceptualist gets good performances of fiercely difficult, experimental works: you get a chair in composition at a major music school, draw interested students to your side, and present concerts. Mitchell has done that as a chair of composition studies at Mills College. And his student Jacob Zimmerman does the teacher proud in the skittering, sheets-of-sound atonality of the title track (for saxophone and piano), as well as in the sax-quartet arrangement of the infamous Mitchell piece “Nonaah.” Some more senior eminences drop by to tackle a chamber orchestra version of “Nonaah,” also. When paired with the finest recorded example we have of Mitchell’s writing for string quartet (“9/9/99 with Cards”), this album becomes an essential document of a portion of the composer’s legacy.