Roscoe Mitchell’s Live in Detroit

Roscoe Mitchell Sound Ensemble
Live in Detroit
Cecma : 1989

RM, flute, alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax; Hugh Ragin, trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet; Spencer Barefield, guitar; Jaribu Shahid, bass; Tani Tabbal; drums and percussion.

Welcome to LOST TONES which features tracks from hyper-rare recordings that aren’t available anywhere else on the web. These treasures are courtesy of George Scala, who runs the invaluable Free Jazz Research site. He’s generously shared them from his amazing archive so they can be enjoyed by more than just collectors. Each selection is something that we unequivocally love and feel deserves a wider audience.

This double LP captures Roscoe Mitchell’s Sound Ensemble throwing down at the Detroit Institute of the Arts in October 1988. “Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin Shoes” was on Mitchell’s mind that night – the album features two radically different reworkings of the tune as well as the same band that waxed his 1980 Snurdy McGurdy album.

We’re sharing the first and more faithful version of “Snurdy McGurdy.” Be warned that it’s an epic, stretching out to almost 27 minutes! That said, it’s pure pleasure. There’s a strolling ease and gentle forward momentum that makes the tune feel a fraction of its length. It’s not the sort of music you normally associate with Roscoe Mitchell – steady grooving and brimming with unapologetically prominent and meaty solos. Toward the end, it subtly shifts into the knottier and more diffuse “Spirits Among Stones” while still teasing out shards of the original melody.

If that was too in the pocket for you, the four-minute section of Joseph Jarman’s composition “Noncognitive Aspects of the City” should put you right. It’s a lovely tone drone that’s expertly layered with different sonorities. It’s a pocket-sized exploration of stasis along the lines of, say, LaMonte Young. Dig the chimes toward the end. Play loud for maximum effect.

We love the ’80s sidenote: This album concludes with a version of “Me Bop” by Lester Bowie that we’ll revisit in another post. No doubt this tune is an answer to Cyndi Lauper’s “She Bop,” her timeless ode to female masturbation. Trumpeters seemed to have a thing for Ms. Lauper, given Miles Davis’s cover of “Time After Time.” Woe to those who ever doubted the free jazz/Cyndi Lauper connection!


While this album isn’t available, the boutique label Cecma from Italy has reissued some of their other rare and intriguing offerings on CD. Check them out here.

If “Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City” rang a bell, you may be thinking of the Art Ensemble live double album that Pi Records put out a few years ago. Or maybe you’re harkening back to its first appearance on Joseph Jarman’s “Song For” on Delmark? Either way, you can’t go wrong.

And you want more Snurdy McGurdy? You should. The Nessa namesake album is one of Roscoe Mitchell’s most fun and accessible efforts.  We believe it’s due to be reissued soon, but you can still snag copies of the first pressing now available so get it right now!

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What’s your favorite Roscoe Mitchell and/or Art Ensemble tune? Or hell, your favorite Cyndi Lauper cover?

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