Thursday, August 14, 2008
A POWER STRONGER THAN ITSELF by George Lewis
Interviews with members or associates of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music:
In the middle 1960's a group of black, mostly working class men and women from Chicago formed a musician's collective for the purpose of creating original, often avant-garde music. And, against all odds, they succeeded.
George Lewis' fine new book A Power Stronger Than Itself, tells the story of the collective in a highly readable, even lyrical manner, while at the same time making the case for further academic investigations into the group. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is still a strong, vital institution today. Contemporary artists such as Nicole Mitchell and Jeff Parker continue to make startlingly original music.
Members of earlier generations of the AACM have 'succeeded', according to standard measures: Anthony Braxton and George Lewis (the author of the book) are MacArthur Fellows. Henry Threadgill has won the Downbeat composer's poll a number of years. And the AACM's most famous group, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, is still making great music after 40 years, in spite of the death of two of its original members, Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors Maghostut.
What sets many of the AACM musicians apart from other avant-garde musics of the latter half of the 20th-century is the use of silence, space, and percussive flexibility. While Cecil Taylor and the late John Coltrane pulverized musical space with all-out intensity, the AACM members offered an equally challenging, but less aggressive type of music that places a lot of emphasis on composition, group interplay, and collage techniques.
Over the next several months, I will be posting interviews with members or associates of the AACM in celebration of the book's publication.
While I hate lists, I realize their importance for guiding people new to a subject . What follows is a list of AACM recordings that would be the start of a good collection of the challenging music coming out of this collective. I am listing albums from the whole of the collective's years, rather than simply focusing on so-called 'classic' works. I am not "rating" these recordings, I am merely helping new listeners to get their feet wet.
Anthony Braxton - For Alto
A solo alto saxophone album, this still-controversial album developed a 'new syntax', according to Braxton, for the saxophone.
Roscoe Mitchell - Sound
The first AACM album. It is still fresh, even shocking at times, 40 years after its recording.
Joseph Jarman - For Song
Brilliant album full of dramatic crescendoes and intense, even at times scary, passages.
Muhal Richard Abrams - Levels and Degrees of Light
For years the de facto leader of the AACM, Muhal Richard Abrams here shows the
connections of the new so-called 'jazz' music to history and tradition.
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Bap-tizum
If you have never heard these guys, you have not yet lived. They have a distinct sound which, at the same time, allows for plenty of flexibility so that most songs sound unique.
Amina Claudine Myers - Salutes Bessie Smith
Beatiful, gospel-influenced vocals and superb piano playing.
Henry Threadgill - Easily Slip Into Another World
This may puzzle some people, but for decades I have loved this album like no other by Threadgill, including his work with Air. As far as Air goes, I would suggest Air Time.
Philip Cohran & the Artistic Heritage Ensemble -
Philip Cohran is an old-time Chicago artist, who worked with Sun Ra when he was there in the 50's. These are some recordings from Cohran's legendary 'beach band'. They would play at of Lake Michigan. A point of interest: band members went on to play with Miles Davis and, ee gads, Earth, Wind, & Fire. They were probably the only AACM members to make real money.
George Lewis - Solo Trombone Album
Lewis is, hands down, my favorite trombone player.
Douglas Ewart & Inventions Clarinet Choir - Angles of Entrance
The most formidable line-up of clarinet players ever: Mwata Bowden, Anthony Braxton, J.D. Parran, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, Edward Wilkerson, Jr., Don Byron
Ethnic Heritage Ensemble - Hang Tuff
Led by percussionist Kahil El'Zabar, this band develops some of the directions opened by the Art Ensemble: emphasis on world music (especially African), the use of a bevy of little percussion instruments, development of more 'open' compositions. The unique aspect of the group is it often does not use a bass: the rhythm is based almost entirely on the percussion.
Malachi Thompson - Buddy Bolden's Rag
Brilliant and highly versatile trumpet player, composer and arranger. We lost him way too soon.
8 Bold Souls - Last Option
Led by Ed Wilkerson, Jr., this is a classic band.
Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble - Jo'burg Jump
I hope this won't get me in trouble, but this fine band is, I think, one of the more conservative groups to come out of the AACM. They usually play advanced hard bop with plenty of room for improvisation.
Nicole Mitchell - Black Unstoppable
The 40-something Mitchell is flutist with tremendous conceptual abilities relative to music. She is now the co-president of the AACM.
Sticks & Stones - Sticks & Stones
A young group: Matana Roberts, Joshua Abrams, Chad Taylor. I believe that only Matana Roberts is a member. She also has a solo album released in 2008: The Chicago Project.