On Roscoe Mitchell


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On Thursday, March 17, Ars Nova Workshop presents Archer Spade and Drew Ceccato performing the work of Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). For this special night in ANW’s Composer Portrait series, Archer Spade, a duo of Philadelphians Nick Millevoi (guitar) and Daniel Blacksberg (trombone), will unite with Drew Ceccato (woodwinds), who is currently studying with Mitchell at Mills College. The trio will be performing four compositions by Mitchell: “Marche,” “L-R-G,” “Cards,” and “Nonaah.” In anticipation of Thursday’s free concert at The Rotunda, ANW asked each trio member to reflect on how Mitchell has inspired their work.

Nick Millevoi

The first time I saw Roscoe Mitchell perform was at an Ars Nova Workshop concert at the International House in 2005. The music played that night was most certainly some of the highest energy music I've ever witnessed. It was among a handful of concerts where I'll always remember something special and unexplainable happening in the room that can never be exactly repeated. Mitchell remained so focused throughout the concert, and at one point took an unaccompanied solo where he played patterns, while circular breathing, that truly defied any notion I had of what was possible on saxophone or in improvisation. Ever since, I've been seeking out music with that kind of purity and intensity. I feel the same energy projected from the quartet version of “Nonaah” on the Nessa release, Nonaah. While the notes in the opening five-beat pattern repeat for several minutes, the energy and force that each player brings to the piece with each repetition creates a web-like effect where each performer is pulling and pushing on the others, creating a music that seems to happen beyond the notes. Every time I've listened to this piece, I've heard something else in it, and I strive to bring this kind of energy to our own performance.

Daniel Blacksberg

I remember hearing Roscoe Mitchell’s solo version of “Nonaah” from a concert in Germany in 1976. Faced with an antagonistic audience that expected Anthony Braxton, Roscoe repeated the same motif over and over again with stunning force for over six minutes until the audience’s boos morphed into cheers. Roscoe said the following about the concert: “The music couldn’t move until they respected me, until they realized that I wasn’t going anywhere, and if someone was going it would have had to be them.” Roscoe’s incredible dedication to his art and his craft is what makes him one of my musical heroes. From playing virtuosic solos, circular-breathed at a blistering velocity, to composing some of the world’s most difficult music, to strange songs like “The Key” from the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Fanfare for the Warriors, Roscoe’s music has always been, for me, the true essence of what it means to be an experimental musician. I’m extremely excited to enter into his musical world and perform some of his most challenging works.

Drew Ceccato

It’s hard to talk about all the different ways Roscoe Mitchell has guided and influenced my own musical choices both on the stage and off. To say that he is my biggest inspiration would be an understatement, however, I struggle to think of a word that conveys the level of importance Roscoe has had to me. The first time I heard “L-R-G,” I was so enthralled with the depth of expression and intimate playing of the ensemble that I dropped the notion of ever becoming a classical woodwindist and set out to work in a much more improvisational, less defined form of music, a space where I could create my own niche with my own unique musical voice. That was nine years ago. Presently, I am fortunate enough to have worked closely under the tutelage of Roscoe Mitchell for the last two years and have seen my understanding and respect for the music he composes and improvises sky rocket into a realm I didn’t know possible. Since I began working with him my own playing has improved to a point I never thought I’d be able to achieve, and my respect for him as a person couldn’t be higher. I feel absolutely honored and privileged to be able to play the music of Roscoe Mitchell and hope that the music reveals itself in a way that conveys the depth and genius that his music deserves.

Archer Spade and Drew Ceccato will perform at 8pm on Thursday, March 17 at The Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street).

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This story appears courtesy of Ars Nova Workshop.
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