Roscoe Mitchell

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Congliptious Review

by Brian Olewnick

Congliptious is a landmark recording of modern jazz, an extraordinarily strong and creative album and one that, among other things, perfectly encapsulates the ideals of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). One of the graduation requirements of students in the AACM was to be able to pull off a solo recital on whatever their instrument happened to be. In the late '60s, the idea of an evening-length solo performance on saxophone or drums, for example, was unheard of. The first three cuts on Congliptious are solos for bass, alto saxophone, and trumpet that not only stand on their own as powerful statements, but also mark out several of the conceptual territories near and dear to this organization's heart. In "Tutankhamen," bassist Malachi Favors pays homage to the deep past, his rich arco delving into a theme older than the blues, but always keeping the blues in mind. Roscoe Mitchell's "Tkhke" remains, more than three decades later, incredibly alive and corrosive, reaching the furthest limits of his instrument, harrowing yet tightly controlled. Only when it resolves into a placid near lullaby does the listener dare exhale. Humor was another constant element in the work of these Chicagoans, rarely better expressed than by the late Lester Bowie in his historic soliloquy, "Jazz Death?" Posing as both unctuous interviewer and sly interviewee, Bowie wends his way through virtually the entire history of jazz trumpet with affection, soulful beauty, and a sardonic glance or two. The side-long "Congliptious/Old" is a masterpiece in breadth of conception and execution, an exemplar of the newly drawn lines distinguishing chaos from order. The trio is joined by drummer Robert Crowder, who leads things off in march tempo before dissembling into a maelstrom of percussion and the "little instruments" beloved by these musicians. The piece ebbs and flows, traveling from thunderous explosions to childlike songs to abstract vocal exhortations (including the timely phrase, "Sock it to me!"), but always retaining a sense of the blues. That aura comes into sublime fruition in the closing section, "Old," where Mitchell has written a theme as timeless as its title, an utterly gorgeous tune with roots in New Orleans dirges and beyond, which the quartet takes out with gusto, aplomb, and -- again -- a devilish humor. As of 2002, Congliptious was only available on disc as part of a limited-edition five-CD box set on Nessa (The Art Ensemble 1967/68). However the listener gets hold of it, it is one of the single most vital recordings of the jazz avant-garde, and an album of unique beauty.

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