AACM | David R. Adler on Mike Reed and Jeff Parker

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. On Monday, June 13 at the Maas Building, writer (Jazz Times, New York City Jazz Record) and Queens College jazz history lecturer David R. Adler will talk with young AACM members Mike Reed and Jeff Parker, whose duo performance will precede the discussion and a performance of Henry Threadgill's “Background” by the Collide Saxophone Quartet. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on Reed and Parker by Adler for Ars Nova Workshop.

It’s safe to say that Muhal Richard Abrams, Phil Cohran and other AACM founders weren’t just out for themselves when they launched the organization in the mid-1960s. Rather, they sought to create a legacy of artistic freedom, an example for new generations. Guitarist Jeff Parker and drummer Mike Reed, standing at the forefront of today’s energized Chicago improvising scene, are an embodiment of that legacy.

Parker has issued such fine recordings as Like-Coping and The Relatives. He’s distinguished himself as a member of Tortoise, Isotope 217 and other head-turning, hard-to-classify bands. He’s also worked with AACM stalwarts Ernest Dawkins and the late Fred Anderson, the Chicago Underground in its various forms, Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble and Matana Roberts’ Chicago Project, not to mention the Brian Blade Fellowship, Joshua Redman’s Elastic Band, the Scott Amendola Band and more.

Thoroughly at home with rock, blues, straightahead swing and open-form experimentation, Parker brings a dry, biting guitar sound to his musical encounters, including his provocative duo with Mike Reed. Both Reed and Parker are members of Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra, appearing together on such releases as Bill Dixon with Exploding Star Orchestra and We Are All From Somewhere Else. Their duo music hails from the same universe: rough-edged, percussive, sonically inventive, yet marked by a pared-down intimacy.

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AACM | John Szwed on the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. At 6pm on Saturday, June 4 at Philadelphia Art Alliance, Sun Ra and Alan Lomax biographer and Columbia University professor John Szwed will talk with first generation AACM member Wadada Leo Smith, whose solo performance following the discussion will kick off the 5-concert festival. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on the AACM by Szwed for Ars Nova Workshop.

On the mythic map of jazz that we have inherited there are two coasts, one river, and three cities - New Orleans, Chicago, and New York. It's a cruel simplification of a very complex history, but one that's hard to forget. A few years back I was thinking of that jazz geography when I travelled between those three cities over a short stretch of time and got to hear some music in each of them.

In New York, the audience at the Vanguard was appreciative, urbane, and politely knowing. And why not, the music is no longer connected to any particular community or ethnicity, and New York clubs are now more like a jazz festival, with groups from everywhere in the world passing through. In New Orleans, on the other hand, jazz seemed to me something like the tropical air or the drinks: it had always been there, and you breathed, drank, and listened. Music in that city is still neighborhood-based, and remains, in spite of Katrina, somewhat racially determined and tied to other forms of community music - soul, blues, funk . . .

In Chicago one experience sticks with me. I arrived just in time to see the Art Ensemble of Chicago make a widely publicized concert return to Mandel Hall. The crowd that night was diverse, all high energy and wild enthusiasm for the music. At the end of the evening, Roscoe Mitchell stepped to the microphone, introduced the individual musicians, then said with a bow, "Collectively, we are the Art Ensemble of Chicago." When that last word was uttered the audience leaped to its feet with a triumphant roar! "Hog Butcher for the World," Carl Sandburg called Chicago, "Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads . . . Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders" In the hall that night it felt something like that.

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AACM | Francis Davis on Henry Threadgill


For Ars Nova Workshop's AACM: Great Black Music Festival, we've asked several leading jazz scholars and journalists to engage performers in a series of pre-concert public discussions about the history, present, and future of the AACM. At 6pm on Sunday, June 5 at Christ Church Neighborhood Theatre, award-winning jazz journalist and author Francis Davis will talk with first generation AACM member Henry Threadgill, whose Zooid ensemble will perform following the discussion. We're pleased to share with you a short essay written on Threadgill and the AACM by Davis for Ars Nova Workshop.[NOTE: We apologize for the inconvenience, but the pre-concert discussion with Francis Davis and Henry Threadgill is cancelled. The performance by Henry Threadgill & Zooid will still begin at 8pm.]

Even now, hard on fifty years since the organization’s first stirrings in Muhal Richard Abrams’s Experimental Orchestra in Chicago in the early ‘60s, some still deny the music made by the AACM’s charter members a place in jazz tradition by virtue of it being too “European”—too infected by the procedures of such postwar classical avant-gardists as Karlheinz Stockhauen and John Cage to qualify as a logical outgrowth of Ellington, bebop, or even free jazz. (Never mind that Cage was as American as Jelly Roll Morton or Charles Ives, this peculiar strain of American exceptionalism obeys no logic but its own). Or the same body of music, occasionally even the same piece of music, is disparaged as willfully primitive, a deliberate affront to jazz’s ongoing intellectual evolution.

These criticisms would be ridiculous even if they didn’t nicely cancel each other out. Yet taken together, don’t they somehow amount to exculpatory fact? Because what was so innovative and exciting about those first albums to draw the world’s attention to the AACM—what identified this music as something more than Coltrane or Albert Ayler with a Chicago accent—was a cross-cultural bricolage, a bringing together of pan-African ritual and rhythmic primacy with something drawing on both Cagean indeterminacy and Schoenbergian post-tonality. read more

AACM | Great Black Music, 6/4-13

Presented in Philadelphia by Ars Nova Workshop from June 4-13, AACM | Great Black Music is a festival of performances and public discussions with scholars and writers celebrating the past and present work of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).

Founded in Chicago in 1965, the AACM's motto is “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future,” and, as their mission proclaims, they've been “nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music” ever since. The self-help collective, which converged through multiple ensemble configurations including the Art Ensemble of Chicago, was formed to provide avant-garde composers and performers a platform to elevate their work within a power structure hostile to black experimental musicians.

Forty-six years after its founding, the organization continues to collectively bargain with venues and record labels, initiate music education programs in inner city schools, and carve out a unique creative identity and space of their own. Named after the AACM's motto, the festival begins June 4 with a solo performance by trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and a public discussion led by John Szwed, and over the next two weeks there will be concerts by Henry Threadgill's Zooid, a Composer Portrait: Roscoe Mitchell component with the S.E.M. Ensemble performing chamber works by Mitchell, Mitchell and Evan Parker in duo, and Mitchell and the Sound Ensemble, the Collide Saxophone Quartet performing Threadgill's “Background,” and a duo with Mike Reed and Jeff Parker. Many of these events will feature pre-concert public discussions with music scholars, writers, and educators Francis Davis, Nate Chinen, and David Adler.

A summary of the events appears below. For additional information on the artists and events, and to purchase tickets, please see the individual event pages on the ANW website.

AACM | Great Black Music | June 4 – June 13 | Philadelphia, PA, USA Saturday, June 4 at Philadelphia Art Alliance (251 S. 18th Street) 6pm | A public discussion with Wadada Leo Smith and music scholar John Szwed 8pm | A solo performance by Wadada Leo Smith

Sunday, June 5 at Christ Church Neighborhood House (20 N. American Street) 6pm | A public discussion with Henry Threadgill and music writer Francis Davis 8pm | A performance by Henry Threadgill's Zooid [NOTE: We apologize for the inconvenience, but the pre-concert discussion with Francis Davis and Henry Threadgill is cancelled. The performance by Henry Threadgill & Zooid will still begin at 8pm.]

Saturday, June 11 at German Society of Pennsylvania (611 Spring Garden Street) Composer Portrait: Roscoe Mitchell Chamber works by Roscoe Mitchell performed by the S.E.M. Ensemble, Thomas Buckner, and Joseph Kubera Roscoe Mitchell-Evan Parker Duo

Sunday, June 12 at Settlement Music School (416 Queen Street) Composer Portrait: Roscoe Mitchell 6pm | A public discussion with Roscoe Mitchell and music writer Nate Chinen 8pm | A performance by Roscoe Mitchell and the Sound Ensemble

Monday, June 13 at The Maas Building (1325 Randolph Street) 8pm | A performance by the Mike Reed-Jeff Parker Duo 9pm | A public discussion with music writer David Adler 10pm | The Collide Quartet perform Henry Threadgill's “Background” read more

Kevin Whitehead on the Instant Composers Pool

Ars Nova Workshop's Three Nights in Philadelphia with the Instant Composers Pool Orchestra began last night. Taken from the performance, the video below shows a bird-like Tristan Honsinger conducting the orchestra. It continues tonight when, at 8pm, the tentet will take the stage with guest vocalist Fay Victor. Then, on Sunday, members of the ICP Orchestra will join jazz critic and author Kevin Whitehead for a pre-concert public dicussion at 6pm. Phawker interviewed Whitehead to talk about his new book, Why Jazz?, and he said the following about the Instant Composers Pool.

"In the late ’60s, musicians in a few western European countries started developing their own improvised music styles, informed by jazz but branching off. The Dutch contingent were the jolliest, and included pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink. They started the ICP Orchestra in the 1970s but it really took off in the ’80s, when most of the present 10-tet came together. Misha wrote most of the music, which could sound very jazzy or like crackpot Mozart, and also arranged pieces by his American faves, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. Like Ellington, he saw the appeal of a band of individuals with varied backgrounds, and distinctive, contrasting styles as soloists. He also taught the musicians little games and strategies they could use to subvert his authority as bandleader.

ICP can sound like a miniature big band or a chamber group, as musicians move from rearranged Ellington into a raucous or quiet free improvisation and then a Mengelberg fanfare or a bit of spontaneous theater. It’s slippery music, walking a line between chaos and sublime lyricism, and they have the damnedest way of changing things up just before they wear out. It’s really quite amazing, and often very funny, and any fan of jazz now or new music or improvised performance would be crazy to miss them when they come to town. Philadelphia, this weekend, say."

ICP Orchestra | Three Nights in Philadelphia

In celebration of Jazz Month, on April 1 the ICP Orchestra invades Philadelphia, making a three-night stand at Christ Church Neighborhood House in Old City. A Dutch collective of improvisers and composers founded in 1967 by Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, and Willem Breuker, over 40 years later the ICP Orchestra continues to be at the forefront of creative music. “As swank and precise as it is rollicking, and knowingly evocative of both Ellington and the wildest and woolliest free jazz,” wrote Francis Davis about 2010’s ICP 049, which earned the number one spot on his Village Voice Annual Jazz Critics’ List.  Also created in 1967, ICP Records has since released 50 albums featuring ICP members and collaborators, including Derek Bailey, Peter Brötzmann, Evan Parker, Anthony Braxton, John Tchicai, and Alan Silva.

For Friday’s performance, the tentet will feature founding members Mengelberg and Bennink, Ab Baars, Michael Moore, Tobias Delius, Thomas Heberer, Wolter Wierbos, Mary Oliver, Tristan Honsinger, and Ernst Glerum. As their new video for “Steigerpijp” shows, this will indeed be a very pranksterish April Fool’s Day.

On Saturday night, the tentet will be joined by special guest and critically acclaimed vocalist Fay Victor. Victor has worked on several occasions with Mengelberg, Bennink, Baars, Wierbos and the ICP Orchestra, as well as with Anthony Braxton, Steve Coleman, William Parker, and Fieldwork’s Tyshawn Sorey and Vijay Iyer.

On Sunday at 6pm, before ICP take the stage at 8pm, they will participate in a free public discussion led by Kevin Whitehead. Whitehead is the longtime jazz critic for National Public Radio's "Fresh Air" and has written about jazz for many publications, including the Chicago Sun-Times, Down Beat, and the Village Voice. He is the author of New Dutch Swing – the foundational English language text on Amsterdam’s experimental jazz scene and the ICP Orchestra -  and his essays have appeared in Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006, Jazz: The First Century, and The Cartoon Music Book. In addition to discussing the past, present, and future of the ICP Orchestra and Dutch jazz, tonight Whitehead will talk about his new book, Why Jazz?

For this special three-day celebration, Ars Nova Workshop is offering a 3-concert pass for $30 and $12 tickets for individual nights. Click here to purchase a 3-concert pass, and please refer to the ANW website’s event pages to acquire single-event tickets.

Stasis and Change

On Saturday, April 9, Bobby Zankel and the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound will perform with Steve Coleman at Montgomery County Community College. Funded by the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage through the Philadelphia Music Project, this collaboration with Coleman is the second part of Zankel’s project, “The Wizards of the Saxophone Meet the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound: Creating a 21st Century Jazz Vocabulary.”

For the first installment of the series, Philadelphian Zankel’s large ensemble teamed up last May with Rudresh Mahanthappa to perform a new work composed by the New York-based saxophonist. For this final installment, Zankel’s Warriors and members of Steve Coleman’s Five Elements will perform a composition by Coleman titled “Stasis and Change.”

“I had never worked with Steve before,” says Zankel, “but I have been closely listening to him since the early-1980s, when I first heard his beautiful sound and unique approach to developing lines. His compositional ideas very much intrigued me and seemed to present a new direction for jazz music. His approach to rhythmic organization and his ideas about tonality are tremendously evolved, passing the ultimate test of being wonderful to the ears and heart. I think he’s the most important musical thinker of his generation.” read more

Interview | Wally Shoup

On Wednesday, March 23, Ars Nova Workshop presents a trio performance by saxophonist Wally Shoup, violinist/electronicist C. Spencer Yeh, and percussionist Ben Hall at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. Shoup, who is also a visual artist and writer, has worked with many leading experimental musicians, including LaDonna Smith, Evan Parker, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Nels Cline, Reuben Radding, and Chris Corsano. Based in Seattle since the 1980s, Shoup helped organize the city’s first Improvised Music Festival. An early explorer of the relationships between free jazz and noise, Shoup frequently collaborates with Yeh (Burning Star Core) and Hall, two young artists who similarly traverse the margins between categories. ANW caught up with Shoup for a brief conversation about the Improvised Music Festival, improvisation as liberation, and his upcoming LP, Lunar Roulette. 

There has been a lot of press recently about Seattle’s jazz scene. What changes have you seen take place since your arrival in the mid-1980s?

Players are getting younger and more adventurous.

Can you talk about your involvment with the annual Seattle Improvised Music Festival? Did you play in the festival debut 26 years ago?

The Seattle Improvised Music Festival is the longest running festival of its kind in America. I played the initial fest in 1986 and continued to play and help organize the next 18 festivals. Since that time, Gust Burns has been the primary organizer. I played at the 25th Festival in 2010.

You've written about the connections between free jazz and punk music. How has punk inspired your saxophone playing?

The Stooges’s Fun House was a huge influence. It helped me hear the saxophone in a new way, equal to the electric guitar in its power. read more

Odean Pope Benefit Concert

On Monday, March 21, at the Clef Club, jazz luminaries will unite for a benefit concert to celebrate Philadelphia saxophonist and composer Odean Pope. This all-star event will help raise funds for Pope, who has struggled with Bipolar Disorder for three decades. We hope you will be able to join us for this very special night of music and to help a local hero who has been a vital fixture of Philadelphia’s jazz community for over 50 years. For more information on Pope’s battle against Bipolar Disorder, please read Friday’s Philadelphia Inquirer article by Annette John-Hall.

In addition to comedian, author, and jazz advocate Bill Cosby, award-winning poet Sonia Sanchez, and a set by the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir with Ravi Coltrane, the 13 ensembles performing will include musicians Reggie Workman, Kenny Barron, Bobby Zankel, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Pat Martino, and Duane Eubanks, to name only a few.

For the complete line-up, please refer to the Ars Nova Workshop event page. Tickets for the event can be purchased here, and all proceeds go to the Odean Pope Fund.

On Roscoe Mitchell

On Thursday, March 17, Ars Nova Workshop presents Archer Spade and Drew Ceccato performing the work of Roscoe Mitchell, a founding member of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). For this special night in ANW’s Composer Portrait series, Archer Spade, a duo of Philadelphians Nick Millevoi (guitar) and Daniel Blacksberg (trombone), will unite with Drew Ceccato (woodwinds), who is currently studying with Mitchell at Mills College. The trio will be performing four compositions by Mitchell: “Marche,” “L-R-G,” “Cards,” and “Nonaah.” In anticipation of Thursday’s free concert at The Rotunda, ANW asked each trio member to reflect on how Mitchell has inspired their work.

Nick Millevoi The first time I saw Roscoe Mitchell perform was at an Ars Nova Workshop concert at the International House in 2005. The music played that night was most certainly some of the highest energy music I've ever witnessed. It was among a handful of concerts where I'll always remember something special and unexplainable happening in the room that can never be exactly repeated. Mitchell remained so focused throughout the concert, and at one point took an unaccompanied solo where he played patterns, while circular breathing, that truly defied any notion I had of what was possible on saxophone or in improvisation. Ever since, I've been seeking out music with that kind of purity and intensity. I feel the same energy projected from the quartet version of “Nonaah” on the Nessa release, Nonaah. While the notes in the opening five-beat pattern repeat for several minutes, the energy and force that each player brings to the piece with each repetition creates a web-like effect where each performer is pulling and pushing on the others, creating a music that seems to happen beyond the notes. Every time I've listened to this piece, I've heard something else in it, and I strive to bring this kind of energy to our own performance. read more