Friday, April 18, 2008

"Power" lunch: An AACM mixtape

In the spirit of Destination Out and the great Vijay Iyer solo-piano mixtape they posted a while back, I thought it would be fun to do a more music-heavy post to reflect some of my recent listening (and to honor the AACM on the eve of the release of the marvelous A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music). I'd love feedback on this --do people like checking MP3s on here or just on blogs where they're posted more regularly? It's more labor intensive to do multimedia stuff, but hopefully folks can get into it...

1) Roscoe Mitchell - Improvisation I [excerpt]
2) The Art Ensemble of Chicago - What's to Say
3) Muhal Richard Abrams - Ritob
4) Roscoe Mitchell - Tnoona
5) Henry Threadgill - Gateway

Some notes on the tracks and the albums they're drawn from:

1) From Nonaah, rec. 1976-'77 and apparently soon available direct from Nessa--go here for label contact info courtesy of Ethan Iverson. Nonaah is a perfect example of the possessed improv stylings of Mitchell (the sunglassed dude whom you see at the top of this post). It's a long record (originally 2 LPs), and it features some great live solo stuff as well as a variety of way-out-there small group material. The title track, a Mitchell staple that he has reworked throughout his career, appears three times, most notably in a lengthy live version, which according to this Paris Transatlantic item, owes its acidic, stridently repetitive opening section to a disrespectful Swiss audience who was restless b/c they had come to hear Anthony Braxton. Subbing for him, Mitchell had to work to get their attention and PT quotes him as having said, "The music couldn't move until [the audience] respected me." Craziness. On that track and the one I excerpted above, Mitchell displays an amazing focus and an almost perverse monomania that actually reminds me a lot of the improv stylings of Sam Hillmer from Zs (and also heard to great effect in M.O.T.H.). The record also contains an outstanding duo w/ Mitchell's longtime bass bro Malachi Favors and an insane four-alto-sax version of "Nonaah," whose loopy, mechanistic brilliance gives the World Saxophone Quartet a serious run for its money. You've absolutely got to hear this somehow... (Um, cough--whatever you do, don't click here--cough.)

2) From Fanfare for the Warriors, rel. 1973. Outstanding, outstanding record. Probably the most accessible, immediately enjoyable (though not any less brilliant or challenging for it) Art Ensemble disc I've heard. Joe has sung this one's praises for years and years and it's only recently that I've really given it the time it deserves. Session's virtues include: 1) Stunning playing from guest pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, 2) Excellent studio sound, 3) Manageable track lengths, 4) Compositions from four out of five AECO members, exhibiting what DFSBP readers might by now have recognized is one of my favorite group features in any genre, i.e., true collectivity. Anyway, greatness abounds here, on Favors's "Illistrum," which includes an awesome invocation from (I'm pretty sure) Joseph Jarman; on Lester Bowie's zany postmodern R&B meltdown "Barnyard Scuffel Shuffel; on a brutally jagged and cacophonous version of "Nonaah" (this tune really brings out the freak in people; again, how much does this shit sound like Zs, for those who know both?!); on a way-dark and scary version of Mitchell's "Tnoona," which features this stomping, brash march theme at the end that doesn't seem to be on other versions, or at least the one included above (see track 4 notes below). Decided to include Jarman's way-cool, way-peculiar island-ish breakdown "What's to Say" on my mix--not necessarily a representative AECO track, but is there really such a thing? This one is majorly quirky and majorly gorgeous.

3) From 1-OQA+19, rec. 1977. Very nice Abrams session with an unbeatable band: Braxton, Threadgill, McCall and Leonard Jones on bass. As demonstrated to me by 1978's Lifea Blinec, which I wrote about in an earlier post, Muhal can write some really devilishly complex tunes that also have this exuberant approachability--"Charlie in the Parker" and "Arhythm Songy" from this session are good examples, with Braxton absolutely slaying on the latter, matching the labyrinthine WTF'ness of the tune. Elsewhere "Balladi" explores some crazy schizo action, zipping from a placid flute song to an off-kilter cartoonish march, while "OQA" builds off some heady scientific (mumbo-jumbo?) recitations from (I think) all band members--or at least I can pick out Braxton's lovably nerdy inflection--reminding me of the title track of Ornette's Science Fiction. The track I posted, "Ritob," is way lively--it's what happens when you mix irrepressible AACM weirdness with fiery jazz; Braxton on soprano and Threadgill on alto both absolutely terrorize.

4) From Quartet, rec. 1975. This one came out on the Canadian Sackville label and though it was reissued on CD a few years back, it still ain't too easy to find. Four lengthy quartet tracks, spotlighting the then-green George E. Lewis and his revolutionary trombonism and also including nice work from Abrams and the guitarist Spencer Barefield. The version of "Tnoona" that I posted (sorry for semicrappy LP-transfer sound) is a way-bold choice for an album opener, all horror-movie key-tickling from Abrams, eerie breath sounds from Lewis, spectral shudderings from Barefield and sustained meditation from Mitchell. Again, this version doesn't have the coda heard on the earlier Fanfare version, but I enjoy the morbid vibecraft here better. The record also includes a badass Mitchell/Lewis duo that shows off both their sparse, eccentric mode and their speedy, manic approach. The full band is in on "Cards," another poised, tense, diverse improv--I really like Barefield's spidery runs and quizzical chords, played (at least I'm pretty sure) on acoustic and fortunately never suggesting Derek Bailey. Lewis gets the floor solo on the last track, "Olobo," and it's a safe bet that his awesome showing here and elsewhere on the disc was the genesis for his Solo Trombone Record on Sackville a year later.

5) From Just the Facts and Pass the Bucket, rec. 1983. Another one I gotta thank Joe for; he introduced me to the fantastical joys of Threadgill's '80s small-group music via the outstanding Easily Slip Into Another World (one thing you can count on w/ Thread is the most surreal titling virtuosity since Mingus) from '87. This one is from a few years earlier and is equally as great, methinks. Air was an incredible band, but the lushness of these midsize-band albums is really hard to top: you get grand, oblique chamber-style stuff ("Cover" and "Cremation," the latter a feature for the awesome cellist Diedre Murray--does anyone know if she's still alive, btw?), unbearably poignant say-yes-to-the-pains-and-joys-of-life jams ("Black Blues"), big-souled post-Mingus balladry (the title track), and equally post-Mingus suitelike fantasia ("A Man Called Trinity Deliverance"). But the first track, "Gateway," is the one, man. Lusty, nimble, Latin-tinged splendor with Threadgill getting the band to really, really dance and conjure visions; at his best, Thread is a romantic surrealist and this is what "Gateway" is all about. That and Thread shredding hearts and minds during his possessed solo.


other recent listening:

Henry Threadgill - X-75 Volume 1
Interesting but not essential Threadgill effort. X-75 was the name of Thread's late-
'70s winds and strings ensemble, sans drums and with Amina Claudine Myers on wordless vox; the band often sounds to me like a folk-inclined string quartet with horns. At times, such as on the last piece, "Fe Fi Fo Fum," the group can seem like a wonderfully eccentric version of a big band, and the second track, "Celebration," has some really gorgeous multiple-bass jamouts, but overall there was a little too much meandering improv on this one for my tastes.

Air - Air Raid
Another excellent Air session--their second studio album, recorded in 1976--savage and bighearted and scary-virtuosic as usual. Opening title track does right by its name.

Muhal Richard Abrams - Levels and Degrees of Light
Noteworthy not only for being Muhal's first record as a leader--though not his recorded debut; anyone know this disc he made w/ MJT+3? Interestingly, half of the tunes are Abrams originals--but also Anthony Braxton's first record date. A very experimental session that to my ears sounds a little dated. The long middle track, "Bird Song," contains an interesting recitation by poet David Moore and some cool soundscapey sections with chimes and bells, but ultimately gets a little bogged down in free-jazz blowout. The last track, "My Thoughts Are My Future - Now and Forever" features powerful solos from both Braxton and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre but also some corny vocalizing. Title track is a weird overture type of thing with wordless vox, vibes and Abrams playing clarinet instead of his usual piano.


Two quick concluding items:

1) Don't miss the soul-searching going on over at The Green Lodge. This post is typical. We all know that John's blog has more 1000X more poignance than the entire rest of the blogosphere put together, but he's hitting new levels of artful soul spelunking (not to mention Fleetwood Mac exegesis). Basically what's up is that he and his roommates--good buds of mine as well--are losing their incredible Boerum Hill house (502 Warren), where I've spent many a night hanging, goofing around and playing glorious Aa music. This was perhaps the closest thing to a true home that I've seen in NYC and this turn o' events is indeed tragic. If blogotherapy is helping a dude cope, we need to bear witness.

2) Time Out readers were dead on when they recently named Hill Country best NYC barbecue. Shit is fucking live. Don't miss the green-bean casserole and the jalapeno-cheddar sausage.


jake said...

This is a great mix and I hope you keep 'em coming. I especially dug the Abrams, which, like you said, is knotty as hell, but also pretty funky and approachable.

I was wondering if you could think of a few other pieces like this - sort of a beginner's guide to avant-jazz. Maybe a theme for a future mix?

Prof. Drew LeDrew said...

Likewise, dig the mix!

As for Jake's query: voila.