This recording is monstrous. That is saying a lot given Roscoe Mitchell’s 60-year career in improvisation and composition, including a singular role in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. But Splatter is a different animal.
Using a process that Mitchell has been employing in recent years, this album begins with a pair of orchestral works that have scores based on transcriptions of recorded improvisations. These scores are not set in stone, and Mitchell revises them to meet the instrumentation of the orchestra.
Case in point, the title track has improvisations from 2013 by Mitchell, Craig Taborn, and Kikanju Baku as its source material. Recorded live at Italy’s AngelicA festival in 2017, the entire piece is performed by an orchestra. Heavy emphasis is on woodwinds and percussion, while the strings and brass provide thick, bounding walls and rhythms. This is dynamic, modern classical, and exhibits a feel not unlike that of a Varese piece. Clocking in only just under six minutes, it is by far the shortest piece on this recording, but a powerful opener.
Distant Radio Transmission is based on a similar approach and the same material from Mitchell, Taborn, and Baku transcribed and orchestrated. But here, vocalist Thomas Buckner and Mitchell also improvise live with the orchestra. Buckner’s utterances are largely wordless, while Mitchell plays the soprano sax in a punctuated and textural fashion. As the piece progresses, Buckner’s vocalizations become more aggressive, and Mitchell contributes angular themes.
Breath and Pipes, at nearly 50 minutes, is a duet between Mitchell and organist Francesco Filidei that was recorded at the Basilica di Santa Maria dei Servi in Bologna the night before the orchestra pieces were performed. The organ provides a haunting set of colors over which Mitchell carefully extracts squeaks, wails, and other sounds from his alto, soprano, and sopranino saxes. High points include Filidei’s staccato chording and shifting textures over which Mitchell provides an endless supply of notes, rapidly played in an inside-out manner.