The notable and astute writer Art Lange began his November column in the online journal Point of Departure as follows:
I quote Mr. Lange at length because he’s right (and please go read the whole thing, it's brilliant). Gunther Schuller did get a bum rap and the term, “Third Stream,” for all its faults, is what we’re stuck with when it comes to describing what’s going on with something like Roscoe Mitchell’s latest record for ECM. I have no doubt that Mr. Mitchell would object to the term himself, but there you go. I would still assert that Composition/Improvisation Nos. 1, 2 & 3 epitomizes Schuller’s ideal of “something other” of a “Third Stream.”
Gunther Schuller got a bum rap, and it’s time for some vindication. He had the audacity, back in the late ‘50s, to suggest that jazz musicians might find some fresh avenues to explore by incorporating classically-derived material and procedures into their usual modus operandi – and worse yet, he composed a few examples himself to show how it could be done, using renegade, untrustworthy improvisers like Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy alongside a string quartet. He even came up with a name for it: Third Stream. Maybe that was his mistake; once an idea has a name it becomes concrete, real, and dangerous to the status quo.
Third Stream music was attacked from the git-go, not so much for what it was, but what people feared it might be.
[Schuller] tried to deflect these misconceptions in a 1961 article entitled Third Stream” (reprinted in his Oxford University Press collection of essays, Musings), where he explained that Third Stream was not intended to replace, improve, or “legitimize” jazz at all, but that the whole point was to blend certain compatible aspects of jazz and classical music into a New Music that no longer was jazz or classical music, but something other.
The Transatlantic Art Ensemble is a combination of Mitchell’s Note Factory and Evan Parker’s Electroacoustic Ensemble (sans electronics). Mitchell’s “composed improvisations” exploit the rich textural possibilities of these fourteen master musicians. Track three is exemplary: beginning with a fully-notated and quirkily swinging ensemble passage, it develops across various rhythmic and instrumental combinations until yielding to Mitchell’s own solo saxophone excursion. From there it evolves into an ecstatic (yet somehow delicately controlled) free-jazz blow-out, building climaxes upon climaxes as each additional instrument gradually enters the fray. Just as you think it can’t get anymore intense, a beautiful chord appears signaling an extended coda to end.
The first time I heard this was a hair-raising experience. I literally felt like the guy in the Maxell ad, pinned to the sofa. The whole thing is beautifully recorded by producer Steve Lake and it sounds especially good at a realistic volume level, if you know what I mean.
Neither one of the available terms, “jazz” nor “classical”, fits this music’s true ambition and scope. “Third Stream” will have to do. Let’s give it some respect.