This is the last installment of the AACM retrospective - a highly subjective, entirely personal, and completely non-representative list of albums plucked from our own collections to represent what the recordings of the AACM and it's musicians have meant to us as enthusiasts of the music. Today, the years between 2005 to 2015.
Note: a big thank you everyone who made this happen, it takes a collective! Thanks to Stef and Matthew for the inspiration to celebrate the occasion of the AACM's 50th anniversary, and to Colin and Martin, who gave us a great (re)introduction to The AACM (thanks for letting me tag along - PA).
By Colin Green, Martin Schray, Matthew Grigg, Paul Acquaro, Stef Gijssels
Fred Anderson - Blue Winter (Eremite, 2005)
Fred Anderson was one of the key figures in free jazz in Chicago for the past decades and a founding member of AACM. Many albums by him can be recommended, yet this one is quite exceptional, not only because of Anderson's playing, but also because of the phenomenal and very inspired rhythm section of William Parker on bass and Hamid Drake on drums. The "lone prophet of the prairie" as Anderson was called demonstrates his great narrative skills on tenor for a full two disc set, for a little less than two hours of music - for just four tracks. Anderson can just keep going, with his strong rhythmic and fluid phrasing, his wonderful tone and great sense of melodic inventiveness and focus. And then this in the company of Parker and Drake : this is sheer magic! And all three musicians have as much fun as the listeners. (SG)
Frequency - Frequency (Thrill Jockey, 2006)
George E Lewis - Sequel (for Lester Bowie)
Roscoe Mitchell - Composition/Improvisation Nos 1, 2 & 3 (ECM, 2007)
In a career full of what are now regarded as 'classic recordings' and 'master works', the majesty of Roscoe Mitchell's later output is in danger of being overlooked as commentators (rightly) heap praise on earlier recordings. Here with his Transatlantic Art Ensemble, on paper and in practice, a 14 piece improvising dream team of Evan Parker, Anders Svanoe, John Rangecroft, Neil Metcalfe, Corey Wilkes, Nils Bultmann, Philipp Wachsmann, Marcio Mattos, Craig Taborn, Jaribu Shahid, Barry Guy, Tani Tabbal and Paul Lytton, Mitchell's scored improvisations yield a recording full of deep beauty and rich harmonic complexity which numbers amongst the finest examples of genuine 'third stream' music, an approach central to the AACM's early aesthetic. Ranging from chamber like solemnity, through deftly swung passages, what could so easily become crowded is full of space and poise, tension and silence, a recording that bares all the hallmarks of Mitchell's approach as far back as Sound, and is richly deserving of the same reverence. (MG)
Matana Roberts - Chicago Project (Central Control International, 2007)
Roberts' current Coin Coin project is such a significant body of work it may almost certainly eclipse fine recordings she has released by smaller group aggregations, notably on the two LPs issued with trio Sicks And Stones, and here - a quartet date with Jeff Parker, Joshua Abrams and Frank Rosaly. Joined by Fred Anderson on 3 of the 9 tracks (all of which are spiralling horn duets), the Chicago Project bristles from the off with beautiful lines, smart interplay and energetic group investigation. Chicago's musical heritage is referenced throughout in the thematic material, marked by repeated stylistic and musical shifts which serve to both reference the city's lineage, and demonstrate the breadth of scope of Roberts' creative drive. (MG)
Mike Reed's People, Places, Things - About Us (482 Music, 2009)
The second installment of People, Places Things finds the quartet of Reed, Greg Ward, Tim Haldeman and Jason Roebke joined by David Boykin, Jeb Bishop and Jeff Parker on one track apiece, each musician contributing compositions to the recording. Knowingly backward looking (the project was devised to shine light on critically under-appreciated inspirations of Reed's from late '50's Chicago), whilst the recording is clearly in thrall to the past it is never in deference to the limitations of established conventions, and continually seeks to expand on the potential of past ideas. Bop(s), of all kinds, are re-imagined with lessons learn after the fact, resulting in something both grounded in the past yet thoroughly modern, the kind of smart thinking record that Jazz at Lincoln Centre could easily produce we they not beholden to the restrictive yoke of past greatness. (MG)
Douglas R. Ewart & Inventions- Velvet Fire (Aarawak, 2010)
Nicole Mitchell - Awakening (Delmark Records, 2011)
The AACM's first female president, Mitchell is first rate in every setting but on this quartet date the instrumental balance allows her flute the space often denied it in more congested groupings. Leading an all AACM band featuring Jeff Parker, Harrison Bankhead and Avreeayl Ra, they move seamlessly from harmonically galvanized group work, through the musical margins into wispy fragments of sound, with a consummate ease demonstrative of top rate musicians with a deep faith and understanding of one another. Melodic sophistication and textural detail permeate a recording of robust group invention and daring, sophisticated fragility. (MG)
Chicago Trio - Velvet Songs - To Baba Fred Anderson (RogueArt, 2011)
The Chicago Trio is Ernest Dawkins on sax, Harrison Bankhead on bass and cello, and Hamid Drake on drums and frame drum. The double CD presents a live gig performed a year before Fred Anderson passed away, yet even then, the performance was already a tribute to him. Both Bankhead and Drake played a lot with the legendary Chicagoan and owner of the Velvet Lounge, and although Dawkins and Anderson also performed together, to my knowledge none of that is available on record.
In any event, this album is really excellent: a deep dive into jazz history by one of the best sax trios you can find, with Drake offering all kinds of rhythmic playfulness, ranging from a funky "When The Saints Go Marchin' In" with Dawkins on two saxes, reggae on "Jah Music", to weird modern work-outs on "Galaxies Beyond". As I told Drake once, his playing sounds like dancing in paradise, and that's also the case on this album. Bankhead is phenomenal too, also on cello on what is possibly the best track of the album, the long "Moi Trè Gran Garçon". The precision of his tone, including bowed, is fantastic, as are his improvisations.
Dawkins is an ensemble man, and it must be said that he give the trio lots of space, yet he is also a great front man, very lyrical and melodic, also in his improvisations, with jazz and blues traditions never far away, yet sufficiently free in his approach to make this album an easy one to recommend for readers of this blog, moving listeners from joy to sadness to spirituality to world empathy and back. The kind of free jazz Baba Fred Anderson would have enjoyed. A great tribute to a great musician. (SG)
Matana Roberts: COIN COIN Chapter One: Gens de couleur libres / COIN COIN Chapter Two: Mississippi Moonchile / COIN COIN Chapter Three: River Run Thee (Constellation, 2011 - 2015)
Although the AACM members have always released very good albums it seemed that the organization has more recently lost some of its musical and socio-cultural importance (especially compared to the 1960s and 70s). And then Matana Roberts started her Coin Coin project and put the AACM back in the spotlight again! Coin Coin was announced as a conceptual project in twelve chapters, including notation and free improvisation, historical storytelling, theatrical elements, Roberts’ grandfather’s poetry, field recordings and samples with which she would explore African-American history, culture and life as well as family history during the last 300 years. (The series’ protagonist is Marie Thérèse Metoyer – also known as Coin Coin – a freed slave, doctor, planter and business woman.) The first three chapters range from music for up to 15 musicians (Chapter 1), to a quintet plus opera singer (Chapter 2) and a solo recording (Chapter 3). Coin Coin is an ambitious, almost monstrous endeavor that could have failed terribly – but the results so far belong to the most interesting and exciting jazz albums of the last ten years. (MS)