|One Final Note Review: As a longtime fan of both Roscoe Mitchell and "chamber jazz", I picked up both of these 1750 Arch LPs by Mitchell's Space Ensemble shortly after they came out in the early 1980s. Although I liked them very much at the time, I must admit that by the time of this mutable 2-CD re-release, I probably hadn't heard either of them in a decade. Prior to spinning the new discs, my recollection was that both were in the pointillistic tradition of "classical" music's Anton Webern and jazz's Jimmy Guiffre—somewhere on the road to the Joe & Mat Maneri releases of the mid-1990s.
On re-hearing, I see that this impression wasn't entirely correct. First of all, there is what seems like a considerable Braxton influence on the two Oshita compositions that open the earlier release, New Music for Woodwinds and Voice, as well as on what I take to be (based on both the musical style and the identity of the engineer) the earliest of the freely improvised works on the second release—the title tune. These pieces sometimes involve the instrumentalists investigating one or two motifs or techniques—say, a lightning-fast arpeggio or a low, buzzed drone—to the near exclusion of any other material. At times, only Buckner seems to be freely commenting—the others are just going their own way without noticing the scenery. "Textures for Trio", with its competing sarrusophone and bass sax drones, also has more Ligeti to it than either Guiffre or Maneri.
The two Mitchell compositions on New Music do, however, have at least a bit of New Viennese feel (as well as a Threni-era Stravinsky one), and are, I think, the highlights of the roughly 83 minutes reproduced here. They involve a brilliant admixture of improv and composition, and Buckner is in particularly lovely voice. In the three years that elapsed between the release of the two LPs, Space moved away from the written note and took to relying exclusively on the improvisational instincts of the performers. Based on the recorded results, this may not have been an entirely successful change. (Interestingly, while Mitchell was getting more and more abstract with Space, he was getting funkier and funkier with his Sound Ensemble.) With the exception of the wonderful (but only three-and-a-half-minute) title tune, the pieces meander a good deal. Because of the talent level of the individuals comprising this trio, there are wonderful moments and Webernian Giuffreacs like me will undoubtedly enjoy the overall atmosphere of delicate counterpoint. But nothing here quite compares with, for example, the crystalline beauty of the opening chorale of the final work on New Music: "Variations on Sketches From Bamboo, Nos. 1 & 2". There is also the occasional problem—most noticeable in the final moments of "Live at the Public Theatre I"—that just as things are at their most wonderfully intricate and otherworldly, in walks Buckner for no good reason at all.
Given the quite reasonable price of this set as well as what I take to be the indubitable desirability of owning every Roscoe Mitchell release, it's easy to recommend this mutable album to those who don't already have the LPs. But having the two discs together like this does suggest that the onward development of the Space Ensemble was not straightforwardly upward.