AACM Great Black Music Festival
A long section in the middle of the set proved to be a small revelation within Threadgillia. Incorporating the composition "Mac V" (and maybe some others) the half-hour arc opened with an unaccompanied bass solo, during which Stomu Takeishi truly seemed to be accompanying himself by rocking back and forth on the squeaky floorboards of the old church building. There was a series of unaccompanied solosJose Davila on trombone and two by drummer Elliot Humberto Kaveeinterspersed with musical interludes, Threadgill sitting out and listening intently. Eventually Takeishi forced a groove onto the proceedings and Threadgill at last lifted his flute and played for a brief couple minutes before a third drum solo led into an unaccompanied cello section by Christopher Hoffman. It felt, at least in the moment, as if there had never been a wider gap in Threadgill's music between what the players knew and what the audience was privy to. There was no reassurance of recurring theme, but there was clear purpose and familiarity of Threadgill's style. There was also, much of the time, Davila's bedrock tuba, a sort of extended oom oom oom oom pah pah oom grounding the proceedings.
The rest of the program was achingly familiar, ramping up to ecstatic levels, and considerable volume for what is essentially an acoustic band. There's something formulaic about Henry Threadgill's musicwhich isn't to say it's always the same. Not at all. Or to say it's predictable or that his working methods don't change over time. It isn't and they do. It's not even to say that one can quite approach the formulae by listening. But it's always clear that there are systems at play, working methods being put to use. There is a sameness, perhaps, but it's a glorious sameness.
The second weekend brought two concerts featuring Roscoe Mitchell, and (with a little overlap) two concerts featuring AACM members as composers with other ensembles playing their works.
Mitchell performed with his longstanding Sound Ensemble at the Settlement Music School on June 12, opening with a section of a piece commissioned for the 2011 Angel City Jazz Festival in Los Angeles. Titled Angel City 2011, the piece featured the leader on whistles and wooden recorders with A. Spencer Barefield on classical guitar and Jaribu Shahid on upright bass. It was a spellbindingly spacious half hour, delicate and sterling, building steadily and dramatically, with Hugh Ragin's trumpet blasts and whispers permeating the stillness.
They were then joined by baritone Thomas Buckner for an improvisation. There's always been an interesting balance between Buckner's voice and Mitchell's horn that's hard to quite pinpoint, but it remains among Buckner's strongest partnerships. The rest of the set continued with the improvisations (interpolating Mitchell's "The Alternate Line" and "The Bad Guys") with more quiet over-blowing on the alto, leading into hard jazz pieces and the first of Mitchell's heavy alto multiphonics of the two nights. An even heavier soprano solo, climaxing in a held high note of wavering timbre and occasional upswing, which led into a brief drum solo that returned with the unified theme/outro, including gentlemanly band introductions. It was great to hear the full force of Mitchell's saxophone, at last, after the previous night's more mannered presentation.
The concert of chamber music at the German Society of Pennsylvania featured four of Mitchell's compositions ranging from solo piano to the 24-piece SEM Ensemble. Joseph Kubera opened the evening at the piano, playing the Nancarrow-like time-shifting complexities of "8/8/88" beautifully. Mitchell composed the piece for him (the title connotes the date Mitchell began work on it). He was then joined by Buckner for a setting of three E. E. Cummings' poems entitled "because it's / this / dim." Mitchell has set Cummings' verse to music before: "O the sun comes up-up-up in the opening," from the 1995 album Pilgrimage (Lovely Music) also featured Kubera and Buckner. The operatic baritone can be a controversial presence in some new music circles, but Mitchell has a particular knack for using him. The three brief Cummings' pieces were quite beautiful.
The night was given the moniker "An Evening of Chamber Works," but it was no doubt largely a jazz audience, many of whom were attracted either by Mitchell's name or the late addition of a horn duo with Evan Parker. While the two are among the finest soprano players around, and have a fair bit of shared ground in terms of technique, they went with both bigger horns and longer tones. With Mitchell on alto and Parker on tenor, they crafted layers of harmonic drone with great care and deference.