Guelph Jazz Festival, September 8-12, 2010
A pair of acronyms suggested sub-themes throughout the festival: the Chicago musicians' collective, AACM (the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music), and the 40-year-old German record label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music). In addition to his sound-design installation, Lewis (who is not just a member but, literally, wrote the book on the AACM) took part in a concert and panel discussion featuring his trio with Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell. On top of that was the added surprise of Lincoln " Chicago Beau" Beauchampwho played harmonica on some of the earliest AACM recordingson hand to lead the panel and introduce the band. But, perhaps, even more surprising was the morning panel, finding the pianist and elder of the group in a talkative mood.
Abramswho rarely does interviews or speaks publiclyspoke openly about the practice of improvisation and the philosophies of the AACM, including acts such as beginning concerts in silent meditation, that have implied to some a Muslim backing to the organization.
"No one dictated what you should think when you face east," Abrams said. "We used to talk about the sorts of food you should eat without actually dictating what you eat. These things are not musical things, but they're human things." Responding to a question from the audience, Abrams said firmly that he doesn't give out advice. But he did go on to suggest certain ways of operating. "We had no reason to copy each other," he said. "It was amazing. Maybe it was because we didn't have any star bands. What I've learned through all these years is to appreciate practice."
Lewis, who came to the organization later than founders Abrams and Mitchell, underscored the commitment to originality within the organization. "In the end, the people who were beginners weren't necessarily inferior to the people who were more experienced, because we were all doing something new, and that was composing," he said. "The rule was you had to present your own, original music."
The Trio' s concert, the following night, proved to be the highlight of the five days. Mitchell opened on alto, stating a phrase and repeating it, then turning to a prolonged, breathy tone that Lewis met on trombone. Abrams showed a wise reserve, common to him in recent improv situations, listening hard to his bandmates, carefully sharing a chord, a single note, a brief glissando every minute or so, sitting on the sustain pedal for a few delicate lines, and then starting again. They were fast and quiet, supplemented, at times, by gently pervasive emanations from Lewis' s laptop, matching tempi and sitting behind the acoustic instruments.