Sunday, April 06, 2008

Saturday listening: five AACMs

currently devouring George E. Lewis's massive forthcoming history of the AACM. what's really getting me is how large the AACM universe eventually became, and how vast the recorded legacy is, with so many gems from the '60 through the present. fishing around in my collection, i found five that i wanted to revisit.

1) Air - Air Time (Nessa, 1978)
outstanding, outstanding band; not the Virgin Suicides electronica outfit. collective trio of reedist/flutist/hubkaphonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall. all compose, all demonstrate sick virtuosity and listening acumen always--here especially. throughout the record, i'm constantly floored by Hopkins's impossibly dense, warped webs of bass. i can't think of a more agile or overwhelming presence on the instrument. when the group is all moving full force, as on "Keep Right on Playing Thru the Mirror Over the Water," the results are scary. more laid-back pieces, such as Hopkins's murky groove "No. 2" demonstrate that they can pretty much play anything. (throughout the record, i am impressed with Threadgill's wild, cacophonous percussion via hubkaphone, an apparent wall of hubcaps and other found percussion.) Air released a flurry of records around this time and i really need to get to know them better.

2) Roscoe Mitchell - The Roscoe Mitchell Solo Saxophone Concerts (Sackville, 1974?)
as the title suggests, a compilation of live solo pieces by Art Ensemble of Chicago mainstay from the early '70s. ranges from splintered, unsettling alto feature "Nonaah"--heard in two versions that bookend the record--to fun "Oobina (Little Big Horn)" on which Mitchell switches back and forth from bass sax to soprano sax. also some nice understated bluesy stuff such as "Eeltwo" and Malachi Favors's "Tutankamen." recording quality is a little spotty in parts, but it's a solid record.

3) Marion Brown - Duets, sides 1 and 2 (Arista Freedom, 1973-75?)
interesting double LP compilation, of which the first disc is a 1970 duet sesh between Brown and Leo Smith (sans Wadada moniker, apparently), who were then known as the Creative Improvisation Ensemble. both players double on percussion throughout and conjure some pretty dense, peculiar textures, though, predictably, it's the possessed alto and trumpet action at the end of the third piece--either "And Then They Danced" or "And Then a Dance," depending on whether you trust the back or inside cover--that really gets me (overall, i was kinda wishing there was more of that configuration on this session than there is). Leo Smith is a guy i need to hear more of. checking out the Tzadik page, i'm realizing how much potentially awesome music he's got out. anyone got the Kabell Years box?

4) Creative Construction Company - s/t (Muse, 1975) [pictured above]
one of two self-titled efforts from CCC, documenting an important NYC performance in May 1970 by the group. as i read Lewis's book, i'm realizing that CCC is really just as important as the Art Ensemble in the AACM's early history. if i'm understanding things correctly, CCC was originally Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins and Anthony Braxton, first documented on Braxton's "3 Compositions of New Jazz" and later on his two BYG sessions, which added Steve McCall (though there is an also LP by the group sans McCall entitled Silence that's listed in the Braxton discography--anyone know this?). anyway, this record is that foursome plus the awesome Richard Davis on bass and Muhal Richard Abrams on piano. unfortunately, you can't hear the piano that well on this recording, but Jenkins really shines on violin and in the composition department. the record is basically one long piece by him called "Muhal," and it creates a really dark, beautiful atmosphere. nice organic movement from the ensemble throughout the piece--soloists don't stand out so much as the massed unit. again, not the greatest fidelity on this one, but it's an important document.

5) Muhal Richard Abrams - Lifea Blinec (Novus, 1978)
maybe the most fascinating of this quintet of discs. Abrams with multireedists Joseph Jarman and Douglas Ewart, pianist Amina Claudine Myers and percussionist Thurman Barker. you get everything from lush, Mingus-esque fantasia ("Bud P.") to conceptual quasitheatrical sound collage ("Lifea Blinec") and skronky yet precise turbulence ("Ja Do Thu"). and then some absolutely gorgeous lyrical flights by Muhal, accompanied by Barker's marimba, on "Duo 1" and dual-bassoon action from Ewart and Jarman on "Duo 2" (note: to my ears, the second of these is at least a trio, but anyway). a really, really vibrant, diverse, satisfying collection. Muhal is another guy who i respect immensely but don't really have a handle on his discography. that's going to be my next project...


also, many congratulations to my friend Dan and the awesome Shot x Shot, a paragon of vital, advanced, collective, progressive jazz in the current century, who performed excellently at the Stone the other night. new CD out on High Two records.

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