Live review

Roscoe Mitchell at Woolwich Works (LCMF)

Roscoe Mitchell

(London Contemporary Music Festival (LCMF) ‘Exhausted and Hysterical’ concert. Woolwich Works. 18 June 2022 Review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

Roscoe Mitchell (soprano sax).
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2022. All Rights Reserved

In many ways this was an evening for Roscoe Mitchell, programmed around him and for him, leading up to the master saxophonist’s scintillating solo performance.

Tyshawn Sorey’s ’For Roscoe Mitchell’ was central to the LCMF Orchestra’s rich repertoire for the evening, and two heavyweight solo performances indirectly took cues from the pathways which Mitchell and his Art Ensemble of Chicago have carved out over the years.


The evening’s tone was set by a disarming welcome to the audience, each of whom was asked ’Do you trust me?’ and directed to benches to the right or left of the hall depending on their answer. This was the opening gambit of ’First Symphony’ (1964) by Fluxus artist Ben Patterson (1924-2016), and when all were seated the parade down the central aisle threw handfuls of coffee grains to the floor which would remain for the evening. Patterson was an adventurous black artist and composer who ultimately became fully involved with the civil rights movement.

Coffee grains in honour of Ben Patterson (1924-2016).
Drawing by Geoffrey Winston. © 2022. All Rights Reserved


No Home (aka Charlotte Valentine) wrenched out drenched guitar chords and feedback, evoking Hendrix and Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music, with soaring voicings to powerfully set out her radical platform, while extreme turntablista, Mariam Rezaei pushed out an ultra intense, angry-face emoji, rapid-fire collage of sound layers and febrile, tactile interventions resolutely defying description in her LCMF commission, ‘SADTITZZZ’ – a genuine ground-breaker.


Works commissioned by LCMF for the impressive LCMF Orchestra, led by conductor Jack Sheen and numbering over 40 musicians on the largest of the venue’s three stages, took in works by Elvin Brandhi, Oliver Leith and Cerith Wyn Evans. Brandhi’s composition saw the orchestra played off against a somewhat trite video, rather unsatistfyingly. Leith’s piece worked well although came across as surprisingly conventional (notwithstanding pistol shots from Sheen and fireworks sounds) after Rezaei’s extraordinary set, and Wyn Evans with his two collaborators evoked eastern ambience with resonant gongs combining with tingling electronics and shimmerings from the orchestra which took on the spirit of an extended mass tuning up session.

The European première of Sorey’s homage to Roscoe Mitchell was sensitively interpreted with cellist Deni Teo treading lightly to bring out its full impact. Mitchell, immaculately neat in suit, white shirt and checked tie, and barely the height of the contrabass sax standing on the small stage, had been sitting at the back and acknowledged the applause with a wave.
Mitchell’s beautiful solo set was testament to his dedication and commitment to practicing – as he said in interview at Cafe Oto , “I practice my instrument and the rest takes care of itself.”

Starting with soprano sax iterations, squeaky, liminal and delicate, he extruded on-the-edge harmonics and invoked the call of the spheres in an unstoppable improvisation. Donning round-framed, multicolour shades he sat at the contrabass sax to pump out deep, rib-shaking vibrations at a moderated pace, combining something of the “Flight of the Bumblebee” (or maybe butterfly) in the lowest registers with imaginative, scalar exercising. Joined by super-tight percussionist, Kikanju Baku he returned to soprano and alto saxes to play out a complex conversation which steered through spells of crazy rhythmic energy to land on specks of breath-holding silence. A masterclass.

Roscoe Mitchell (with pianist Simon Sieger and percussionists Dudu Kouate and Kikanju Baku) will be at Wigmore Hall on 28 June

Categories: Live review

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