Since October, New York City has been the privileged host of many of Chicago's finest players: Muhal Richard Abrams, Leroy Jenkins, Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell. Following on the heels of the Oliver Lake Big Band and the Muhal Richard Abrams Double Trio (see review), the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians 2001 Concert Season concluded with a double bill at the New York Society of Ethical Culture.
Joseph Jarman's quintet opened the show with an hour of his compositions. Jarman, the multi-reed master, performed in a stark white outfit and highly polished black shoes-a look reminiscent of Mahavishnu John McLaughlin's apparel in the early seventies. Jarman's work is infused with as much spirituality as the former Sri Chimnoy disciple's.
Jarman began on bass flute-an instrument found all too infrequently on the concert stage. In a concert under the auspices of the AACM and its philosophy of multi-instrumentalism though, it is no surprise. Meeting Mr. Jarman after the show, one wonders how these musicians can carry so many instrument cases at once. "Sunset from Nazo-Oh" set the tone-slow, airy and ethereal. The piece used the harmonium (a piano crossed with an accordion, played seated) to provide the drone common to much Eastern music. Jarman's theme was full of long single notes, following a simple but quite beautiful progression. This theme was doubled on the acoustic guitar to a sparse percussive accompaniment of drumhead and finger cymbals. The acoustics of the room provided a booming echo, quite effective for this piece, especially the resounding thud of the drums. For the rest of the set though, this would prove distracting.
"Passage Song for Lester B (The Voice)" was dedicated to the memory of Jarman's AACM colleague and collaborator. Continuing in the spirit created by the first piece, the momentum built up slowly, beginning with a simple piano and finger cymbal introduction. The guitar provided one or two notes, gradually creating a theme substantiated by Jarman on soprano sax, and Jones on tenor. As befitting an ode (Mingus' elegy to another Lester is perfect example), the tone was reflective and spacious. Jarman's soprano work was gorgeous, slowly building in intensity over textural harmony by the tenor. The rest of the group's contribution was not nearly as effective. Perhaps it is lack of understanding regarding space within a solo, but both the guitar and tenor's improvisations were at times self-indulgent and at others unfocused. The group's percussionist reinforced my opinion that there are few non-kit drummers valuable to a performance. Melford was the only musician besides Jarman who approached her parts with any cohesion.
The remainder was not particularly enjoyable or stimulating. "Happiness Is" was the only piece played at a fast tempo. The theme was trite however and the guitarist played chords that seemed to belong to a different song entirely. If not bad enough already, Jarman sang some rather insipid lyrics. This became almost as embarrassing as seeing a rotund Ted Curson singing nonsense lyrics to "Watermelon Man" at the Blue Note last year. "2001 Passage Song" and "Lifetime Visions for the Magnificent Human" also were marred by Jarman vocalizations and, despite some nice piano flourishes by Melford and an attractive flute and bass flute theme on "2001", really never went anywhere. Either the choice of material or a group that was not especially sympathetic left the audience cold, despite polite applause.
The evening was saved by Andrew Cyrille and Michael Carvin and perhaps explains the order of performers. Drum duets can be difficult to swallow. Cyrille and Billy Hart two summers ago at the Knitting Factory was 90 minutes of nonstop improvisation and, while ultimately very satisfying, required an enormous amount of attention to enjoy. This evening's duet was quite different because the six numbers were composed and the entire show was only 50 minutes. The audience was split between drummers craning their necks for a close-up of a certain technique and a less specific crowd just enjoying the polyrhythms.
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