Friday, May 09, 2008

AACM Event: The power stronger than itself talks about itself, and performs itself...

Was this a wonderful event? Truly it was, and I got to meet Oliver Lake! Talk to Amina Claudine Myers and Matana Roberts! No photography was allowed at the event so, unfortunately, no pictures from tonight. The pictures here are all from the AACM-Chicago website's member page. There was audio and video documentation of the event, so hopefully that'll be available to the public through AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) at some point.

OK, so I got there late, it was raining and New Jersey Transit was s-l-o-w, and I had underestimated the walking distance from Penn Station to the Community Church on East 35th. The panel was in full, low-key swing when I got there and Greg Tate was happily moderating--like a kid in a candy store. And who wouldn't be? The panel was comprised of AACM musicians, from left to right (and on this page pictured from top to bottom sans Tate): (Tate, moderating); alto-saxophonist/composer Matana Roberts; pianist/composer Amina Claudine Myers; multi-instrumentalist/instrument maker/costume designer & maker Douglas Ewart; author/trombonist/composer/Director of the Columbia University Center for Jazz Studies , George E. Lewis; vocalist Iqua Colson, saxophonist/flautist/composer Henry Threadgill, and trumpeter (multi-instrumentalist)/composer Wadada Leo Smith.

Tate directed questions specifically to Lewis and then more general questions to the panel at large about the impact of the AACM on their lives as creative artists. One interesting question he posed to Lewis was about the choice he made to focus so much on people's backgrounds in the book, A Power Stronger Than Itself: the AACM and American Experimental Music, chronicling the families and communities that shaped the various musicians in the AACM. Lewis responded that it wasn't his initial approach, but once he interviewed saxophonist/composer Roscoe Mitchell (Art Ensemble of Chicago) he rethought the way he was going about interviewing people. Mitchell told the story of staying out late as a kid and having to cross through a large park, Washington Street Park, in order to get home. Sometimes he would just get tired and so would lay down in the park and go to sleep. This was a markedly different Washington Street Park than the one Lewis knew as a child in Chicago where such a thing wasn't imaginable. But Lewis asked an older female relative about this, and she confirmed that yes, napping in that park on the way home was a regular occurrence--and a safe choice for a young person to make at that time.

Lewis realized he needed to show the larger familial and community relations and contexts that shaped these musicians. He also answered that difficult question of the tensions between the Chicago and New York branches of the AACM, explaining that even delineating the membership in that manner was erroneous because people's relationships to each were more complex. Also at some point, with its multiple generations of members, and members spread around the globe, the AACM became an idea, a concept, not just a brick-and-mortar entity. Basically he summarized it by saying whatever the fights and disagreements the AACM is still here and will likely survive all of the people that founded it. Which is why it's "a power stronger than itself."

What was clear from the panelist's comments was that the AACM allowed people a sense of freedom to push past boundaries, to create new languages of music, sound, and composition, and to trust what they were doing, and approach it with serious discipline and passion.

After the panel there was a 30 minute book-signing and AACM members' CDs were available for sale in the lobby. True to the AACM ethic (everybody does everything) Roberts and Myers were peopling the sales table, trading off on signing books and selling CDs. There was a line at the back of the church that went on for about 30 -40 feet and the George Lewis signing lasted almost the whole of those 30 minutes. But for them running out of books, Lewis probably would have been signing books as he was walking on stage to play.

Next was the concert with The Trio. Unfortunately, I have no idea if this is a "historic trio" or one of first times they've played together in this configuration. But this configuration was Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, Wadada Leo Smith on various trumpets, and George E. Lewis on trombone. One thing that cracked me up was that George Lewis had a H2 Zoom recorder set up (but without the windsock) on a mic stand/tripod onstage and was getting his own recording of the event! It was a great hour-long concert. I really appreciated what they were doing, and how they were interacting with each other. It was good to remember that a bunch of the extended techniques that "new music" now claims came from experimentation from musicians working before "new music" was a term, and whose experimentalism or "new music" wasn't (and often still isn't) claimed by the experimental music world as part of that creative genre and legacy.

It's the erasure that can knock you flat. Even George Lewis addressed the frustration of having to do a "reclamation project." As important as such projects are, they also have the odd quality of stopping time, or creating a time pocket, in which while you are spending time re-constructing and reclaiming the past, time doesn't seem to move forward. So the work of reclaiming, and also noting present contributions has to be simultaneous, and that's not as facile a prospect as it may sound. Time stops and then is compressed as people (laypeople, as well as other musicians, composers, and music historian, music writers, musicologists) lacking this knowledge have to absorb the past and fast-forward to the present without the years of classroom teaching or contextualized concert attendance and radio listening (or maybe there wasn't even non-contextualized concert attendance or radio listening), so there's so much factual and aural imbibing and integration that needs to happen it can be frustrating to have to mediate that along with recording history(ies). I deeply appreciate that Lewis went forward with what needed to be done. I look forward to finally reading the work, with the historical research he did and the 90+ interviews, it sounds amazing.

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