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In his final years, multi-reedist Makanda Ken McIntyre was fond of saying in concert that a piece was off his last album, which came out more than twenty years prior. He would laugh, but the joke pointed out how criminally underdocumented he was during his life. In June 2001, that industry oversight was finally corrected with the release of A New Beginning , a bitterly ironic title since he died the same month.
McIntyre's associations were few, which perhaps is why he was so little recognized. He played a short stint with Cecil Taylor in 1966 and featured Eric Dolphy on the 1960 quintet recording Looking Ahead. With his interest in the woodwind family and the strong compositional sense he brought to his improvisations, Dolphy was perhaps the closest McIntyre had to a kindred spirit. In a just jazz world, McIntyre would also have enjoyed the sort of accolades Dolphy received.
He might get those laurels through the work of the Contemporary African American Music Organization (CAAMO), a project McIntyre himself founded over twenty years ago and which is now overseeing the release and publishing of his remarkable vision. In the Wind , the first CAAMO release, was recorded in October of 1995 and April of 1996, and it features a multi-tracked McIntyre playing a variety of pieces for quartets of like instruments. From a lovely clarinet setting of his staple "Peas 'n' Rice" to more challenging (for player and listener) pieces for oboe, English horn and bassoon, the disc is a gorgeous tribute while providing a fascinating insight into the composer and performer. For studio constructions, the pieces are surprisingly warm. At the same time, it carries the uncanny feeling of multi-tracked works by other masters (eg. Roscoe Mitchell) that give several voices to a single mind. The inner workings are made apparent by exponent.
CAAMO is in the process of cataloguing some five hundred compositions and two hundred arrangements by McIntyre, as well as digitizing over seven hundred recordings for donation to the Library of Congress and establishing repertory ensembles. It might engrave into history a great mind for the music. Better late than never.