If we alter President John F. Kennedy's 1962 moon spaceflight speech just a bit, it easily fits the big band adaptation of Muhal Richard Abrams' magnum opus Soundpath, "We choose to perform this composition not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept." Accepting the challenge was band leader Bobby Zankel and The Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound.
Zankel's big band had previously performed compositions by Julius Hemphill, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and Steve Coleman, so Abrams' music was a perfect fit. Abrams agreed to write music for a premier in 2012. With the composer in attendance, it was a success, by all accounts. Listeners would hear Abrams and other AACM artists perform at the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival, captured as Jack DeJohnette's Made In Chicago (ECM, 2015) with Roscoe Mitchell, Larry Gray and Henry Threadgill. This recording is mentioned because Abrams would pass away in 2017 at the age of 87.
Zankel reassembled The Warriors Of The Wonderful Sound to perform "Soundpath" again in 2018 as part of Philadelphia's October Revolution festival with an expanded lineup of 17 musicians, which included the organizational and conduction skills of Marty Ehrlich. Besides being a music scholar and keeper of the flame for Julius Hemphill's music, Ehrlich had previously performed in Abrams' octet and orchestras. This studio recording was made a day after the festival performance and is a magnificent and flawless document. Abrams' detailed score is both dense, and light as a feather. Solos are spread throughout, but seemingly without a pause in the progression of the single 40- minute piece. This is orchestral music, but also swinging jazz presented as a seamless whole.
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