The AACM at 50

“The AACM intends to show how the disadvantaged and disenfranchised can come together and determine their own strategies for political and economic freedom, thereby determining their own destinies.” –Muhal Richard Abrams and John Shenoy Jackson

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) is without question one of the most influential music collectives of the 20th and 21st century. As individuals, its members have created singular visions and musical languages that draw on evolving traditions of Jazz, European classical music, and other world music traditions. They have created distinct music that elevates and advances what Robin D.G. Kelley refers to as “the black radical imagination.” As a collective, the AACM has been at the forefront since its inception of community-based, grassroots music education. Its musicians have long recognized the liberatory power of improvisational music to lift up communities and imagine new possibilities when there seems little hope. Historically, the AACM’s members have been active in some of the most revered moments in the development of jazz and experimental music: Chicago in the late-‘50s and ‘60s, the American ex-patriot scene in Paris in the ‘70s, the ‘70s Loft scene in New York, and New York’s Downtown scene of the ‘80s. Today, AACM members teach at some of the most esteemed, progressive music schools in the country, including Columbia, Wesleyan, University of California Irvine, and CalArts.

So much of the music that Ars Nova presents would not exist were it not for the tremendous living legacy of the AACM’s individuals. In 2005, Ars Nova celebrated the AACM’s 40th anniversary of “Great Black Music – Ancient to Future.” Over the past decade, Ars Nova has regularly presented AACM members and their students. To name a few: Muhal Richard Abrams, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, Joseph Jarman, Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, George Lewis, Leroy Jenkins, and Matana Roberts.

This year, we help celebrate the AACM’s 50th anniversary with two very special concerts. On Friday, June 5, we welcome back Wadada Leo Smith’s Golden Quartet, featuring Anthony Davis (piano), John Lindberg (bass), and Pheeron akLaff (drums). On June 12, Nicole Mitchell (flute), Tomeka Reid (cello), and Mike Reed (drums) make their Philadelphia debut. In addition to their tremendous musical outputs and critical accolades, this trio served on the AACM's executive board from 2009-11, holding the positions of Chairperson, Treasurer and Vice Chairperson respectively. These very special performances are not to be missed.  

Ars Nova Workshop (ANW), the Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts, the Painted Bride Art Center and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound are excited to announce a new, unprecedented city-wide collaboration that brings world class musicians and fiery big band jazz to Philadelphia’s Clef Club and the Painted Bride Art Center every first Tuesday March–June. Philadelphia’s Bobby Zankel leads his now-institutional big band, the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound, alongside some of the most innovative voices in jazz: Dave Burrell, Oliver Lake, Rudresh Mahanthappa and Jaleel Shaw. Philadelphians can expect a swinging blend of intricate compositions composed by Zankel and commissioned pieces composed by the evening’s special guest.

The series kicks off in March, when Dave Burrell joins the Warriors for their return to the Painted Bride. As part of this performance, the ensemble will perform a new arrangement of “Crucificado,” one of Mr. Burrell’s most popular compositions. The series continues in April at the Clef Club as part of Jazz Appreciation Month, with Indian-American altoist and peerless composer Rudresh Mahanthappa revisiting his 2010 collaboration with the Warriors. The last time these two icons were on stage together, All About Jazz said, The musicianship was consummate, and there were gems of improvisation, highlighted by melodic interludes…along with brilliant turns of phrase and moments of deep, meaningful expression.” Celebrating its 20th year, the Clef Club welcomes the revolutionary Oliver Lake to join the Warriors in May. The series will conclude in June with the welcomed return of Philadelphia native, Clef Club alumnus, and rising star altoist Jaleel Shaw. 

Ars Norge

This Sunday evening Ars Nova Workshop holds the first in a series of concerts entitled Ars Norge. This series presents some of the most visionary jazz, improvisational and experimental artists working in Scandinavia today. Lead by Ivar Grydeland and Ingar Zach, Norwegian quartet Dans les Arbres returns to Philadelphia, creating sonic landscapes that evolve slowly, with an intention that evokes the cinema of the natural world. Grydeland and Zach have been working with each other since the early ‘00s. Their latest release, Canopée (2012) was released by ECM.

Kim Myhr opens the show Sunday night, playing solo 12-string guitar. Once again, a music of slow development, drawing out the harmonic richness of the 12-string run through electronic processing. As guitarists, both Myhr and Grydeland are equally adept in, and move fluidly between, learned finger style approaches and tempered extended techniques.

Critics have referred to both groups as having “Americana,” “folk” and other “simplistic” influences in their work. Traditional and “folk” music has been a part of the jazz avant-garde since free jazz and improvisation became a distinct musical genre. Whether it was Charles Mingus drawing on the music of his Baptist upbringing, Albert Ayler’s use of hymns and New Orleans second line music, or Max Roach’s We Insist: The Freedom Now Suite, which explored the blues and African conceptions of rhythm across multiple places and time, the greatest music has always looked to the musical wisdom of the ancestors, rooting itself firmly in those forebears in order to create innovative collective artistic statements.

Drawing on traditional music palettes and moving in innovative directions has been, and will continue to be, a theme of ANW’s season this year. Sam Amidon and Bill Frisell’s performance certainly embodies this notion. Amidon’s recasting of traditional Appalachian and New England songs (his own parents folk singers themselves) carries forth not only traditional music, but the spirit of the 1960s Folk Revival, adding 21st century harmony to the mix. In December, we see the return of Abraxas, Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz’s group, performing songs composed by John Zorn as part of his ever-growing Masada songbook, a collection of songs drawing on Jewish identity.

Dans les Arbres, Kim Mhyr and Ballrogg all express this connection to traditional music forms as well. While they conjure sounds of place, melodies of the north shimmer, only to retreat to the very patient collective processes of creation that is the hallmark of their artistry. Their music does away with the distinction between so-called high- and low-art forms.

Tonight, William Parker concludes his ANW-commissioned four-part suite, Flower In Stained Glass Window (for creative music ensemble and improvising trio), featuring an all-Philadelphian chamber ensemble, led by Keir Neuringer (alto saxophone), and featuring Veronica Jurkiewicz (violin), Ryan Frazier (trumpet), Mike Watson (bass clarinet), Larry Toft (trombone + baritone horn), Diane Monroe (violin), and Thomas Kraines (cello). Keir shares his thoughts on these four nights:

In 1963 Martin Luther King wrote, in his too-infrequently read Letter from a Birmingham Jail, "the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be...the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists." I have been motivated by this statement, on and off stage, for years. William Parker is the rare musician working these days who connects the notes he plays and composes, the things he has to say, the way he operates in the scene, to the revolutionary legacies of jazz. His example is visionary and inspiring. He is a creative extremist.

When Ars Nova announced that William Parker and Muhammad Ali would be coming to the First Unitarian Church in Philadelphia to perform a King-inspired piece with local improvisers, I knew I had to connect to this project. Even before knowing that MLK had attended a formative sermon here, I knew the genius loci of the side chapel to be deep. I recorded my solo album in its meditative, warm resonance last summer. But this project is not about solos, despite the roster of Philly elders joining us - Odean Pope, Marshall Allen, Dave Burrell, and Bobby Zankel. Parker's work seems to me to be about a collective expression. He gave us an instrumentation and it was a privilege to find and put together a new ensemble of Philadelphia musicians very much dedicated to this kind of work. The scores that Parker created reveal not too much beyond short motifs and harmonies of intense beauty. But the music is not on the paper; rather, it's in the interactions and the musicians ourselves. We will use the scores to support, propel, and contrast the improvisations each night, navigating Parker's ideas and our collective intuition to further the revolutionary legacy of this music.

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June 2015

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  • Tue, 06/02/2015 - 8:00pm
    Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz
    Ars Nova Workshop, the Philadelphia Clef Club, and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound are proud to present the fourth in a series of concerts featuring Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound with special guests.
    (read more)
  • Tue, 06/02/2015 - 9:00pm
    Johnny Brenda's
    Ars Nova Workshop and Johnny Brenda’s are pleased to co-present composer, vocalist, electronic musician, and performer Holly Herndon. Marshall Allen and Man Man's Chris Powell open the night with a rare Philadelphia duo performance.
    (read more)
  • Fri, 06/05/2015 - 8:00pm
    Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz
    Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present this very special performance of Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, celebrating the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ (AACM) 50th anniversary.
    (read more)
  • Fri, 06/12/2015 - 8:00pm
    Philadelphia Art Alliance
    Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present the Chicago-based trio of Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, and Mike Reed. As members of the AACM, the trio served on the organization's executive board from 2009-11, holding the positions of Chairperson, Treasurer and Vice Chairperson respectively. For this very special trio performance in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the AACM, the trio dips into the extraordinary well of AACM music and furthers the organization’s motto, "Ancient to the Future."
    (read more)
  • Tue, 06/16/2015 - 8:00pm
    Philadelphia Art Alliance
    Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present the Eric Revis Trio featuring Kris Davis and Gerald Cleaver.
    (read more)
  • Mon, 06/22/2015 - 8:00pm
    Johnny Brenda's
    Ars Nova Workshop is pleased to present this rare performance of legendary noise/punk/free improv trio Borbetomagus. Heavy noise, deeply coiled feedback manipulation, hair-raising electronic squeal and the ultimate in air propulsion explosiveness, all initiated by humans.
    (read more)

Ars Nova Workshop is a Philadelphia nonprofit jazz and experimental music presenting organization.  ANW informs, inspires, and challenges listeners to elevate the role of jazz, improvisation, and experimental music in contemporary culture. ANW events provide a forum for discourse, emergent trends in contemporary music, and unique forms of cultural exchange, while nurturing a diverse community for innovative music.

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