Conductor/composer Petr Kotik is a living link to an important part of New York’s musical history not so distant as it would seem. His association with the “New York School” of Earle Brown, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff and John Cage began with his producing the latter’s first concert in his native Prague, continued through his tenure at the State University of New York at Buffalo alongside Feldman and into his ongoing programming of those composers through the 50 years of his SEM Ensemble. At least as important as his efforts to keep the performance history of those composers alive and vital, however, has been his dedication to the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)—notably Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell—commonly associated with the jazz tradition and rarely given the time of day by standing orchestras. The connections between the New York School and AACM—open-form composition, sound-assound, etc.—are fairly apparent. The differences that might lead the latter rarely to be presented in the concert hall are left to the reader to deduce. Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC), is the focus of a wonderful collection from Kotik and his Ostravska Banda, an orchestra with overlapping membership to SEM that was established at Kotik’s Ostrava Days contemporary music festival in Czechia. The disc includes recordings of four of Mitchell’s compositions for solo Disklavier, trio, quintet and orchestra. The 20-minute title track, performed by the nearly three-dozen-strong Banda with Mitchell on soprano saxophone (the only track on which he plays) is surprisingly airy for an ensemble that big, James Fei’s electronics giving the track its thumbprint.
Kurt Gottschalk, April 2020
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