A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Chicago's creative jazz

The communitarian spirit of the 1960s spawned the hippie communes, rock music's extended "families" of musicians, Detroit's radical political movement, and the militant groups of black activists such as Oakland's Black Panthers. That spirit entered free jazz in the form of organizations that grouped musicians sharing the same aesthetic intents. By the end of the 1960s there was at least one in every major city. By far the most influential came to be Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), founded in may 1965. Its members shared the "creative" view (born with the most radical experiments of New York's free jazz) that music was about sound, not about musical conventions, musical tradition or musical virtuosity. Thus rhythm, melody and harmony became marginal factors: if emphasized at all, they were mere postmodern devices to reflect on the nature of jazz itself. But more often than not "creative" music was a close relative of the classical avantgarde. Basically, these Chicago musicians experimented a fusion of instrumental color, free improvisation and western-style composition, that largely transcended stylistic boundaries. They were, in fact, better appreciated in Europe than in the USA.

Ironically, the renaissance of Chicago's jazz music took place at a time when jazz was out of fashion in Chicago's clubs. The musicians of the AACM had to organize their concerts outside the network of night clubs: in theaters, in coffeehouses, in abandoned buildings, even in churches. The relative isolation of this generation of jazz musicians helped them create music that was largely indifferent to the tradition.

The style and tone of the music was fitting the environment were it was played. In contrast to the loud, passionate, intense, frantic music of New York's free-jazz elite, Chicago's creative music preferred abstract and abstruse constructs that could border on mathematics or even silence. These musicians loved dissonance and any sound or sequence of sounds that defied the laws of jazz gravity. At the same time, they emphasized discipline, not emotion. Jazz had been moving towards a deeper appreciation of timbre and logic and away from melody, but they turned the exploration of timbre and logic into a parallel science of music. Many of them relied on complex theories of music rather than on a desire for being "free". Instead of the traditional jazz instruments, Chicago's creative music liked to explore non-jazz instruments, whether classical ones or home-made ones, and eventually also electronic ones.

Free jazz had abolished the dogmas of jazz music, and therefore its stylistic borders. Chicago's creative musicians felt free to play a music that was just about anything, harking back to European chamber classical music as well as to electronic avantgarde music as well as to African shamanic folk music as well as to Far Eastern spiritual music, not to mention blues, rhythm'n'blues, street fanfares and big-band jazz. However, the underlying movement was not towards destroying music but towards "creating" it. The emphasis was consistently on creating a new form of music, as opposed to simply destroying the past. In a sense, Chicago's creative musicians simply reinterpreted the past for a society that had dramatically changed over the decades, pointing towards a future in which black music was not the music of the ghetto but the music of an epochal synthesis of civilizations.

Unlike free jazz, that still aimed for a degree of consonance with the events of the time, the "creative" school displayed a degree of detachment from the zeitgeist that was unheard of in the history of black music. With few exceptions, that sense of detachment permeated their recordings. When it was overridden, it mostly gave way to very personal, private, spiritual meditations. Whether detached or solipsistic, their stance marked a further regression of jazz towards a less social form of music.

Creative music was obviously related to experiments by John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Morton Feldman, but hardly related at all to jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong or Charlie Parker. Nonetheless it turned out to be almost exclusively "black". In fact, few schools and movements in the history of jazz music were so exclusively black. Apparently, white jazz musicians felt closer to the jazz tradition than this new generation of black musicians.

The protagonists were: pianist "Muhal" Richard Abrams, alto saxophonist Anthony Braxton, violinist Leroy Jenkins, trumpeter Leo Smith, the Art Ensemble Of Chicago (featuring saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, saxophonist Joseph Jarman, trumpeter Lester Bowie, bassist Malachi Favors, percussionist Don Moye), Air (saxophonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins, drummer Steve McCall). A 1970 performance in New York of Anthony Braxton's Creative Construction Company, introduced New York to Chicago's radical version of free jazz. Within a few years, the core of the Chicago revolution had entirely moved to New York.


"Muhal" Richard Abrams represented both a synthesis and a revolution. His piano style synthesized both ancestral traditions and avantgarde innovations in a deeply emotional and personal language. His arrangements, on the other hand, created a new kind of music, that pushed free jazz to the borders of classical music. The whole of his work laid the foundations for the "creative" music of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
Abrams formed the Experimental Band in 1961 (featuring the young Roscoe Mitchell) that spearheaded Chicago's jazz revolution.
Levels and Degrees of Light (december 1967) was already a mature statement by a musician steeped in the blues (the ten-minute Levels and Degrees of Light, with Penelope Taylor's wordless vocals and Gordon Emmanuel's vibraphone) but rising towards a new level of awareness. Despite some poetry recitation, the 23-minute The Bird Song inaugurated a timbral counterpoint that used free jazz as the springboard but maintained a solid grip on composition, or, better, on the narrative dimension of the music (Leroy Jenkins on violin, Anthony Braxton on saxophone). Young at Heart/ Wise in Time (august 1969) contained two lengthy tracks: the 29-minute solo-piano excursus Young at Heart, highlighting his light touch and shimmering tone clusters, and the 22-minute quartet jam Wise in Time (Leo Smith on trumpet, Henry Threadgill on alto). After Things to Come from Those Now Gone (october 1972), that contains more traditional pieces (except the austere 1 and 4 Plus 2 and 7), Abrams returned to the intimate highbrow aesthetic that was his specialty with the seven solo-piano vignettes of Afrisong (september 1975), notably Afrisong, Hymn to the East and Blues For M. His music output then split into two. On one hand the duets, such as Sightsong (october 1975) with bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, Duets 1976 (august 1976) with Anthony Braxton (saxophones and clarinets), Lifelong Ambitions (march 1977) with Leroy Jenkins, and Duet (february 1981) with Amina Claudine Myers. On the other hand were ensemble efforts that started with two quintets, the one (led by Abrams, Braxton and Threadgill) for Arhythm Songy and Charlie In The Parker on 1-OQA+19 (december 1977), in which Abrams first experimented with the synthesizer, and the one (Joseph Jarman on bass saxophone, bassoon, clarinet, flute, soprano sax; Douglas Ewart on a plethora of reed instruments; Amina Claudine Myers on piano; Thurman Barker on percussion) for Lifea Blinec (february 1978), and quickly expanded to the septet of Spihumonesty (july 1979), in which the ominous sounds of the synthesizer prevail over the lyrical sounds of the piano, to the tentet of Mama and Daddy (june 1980), with the 18-minute Malic, and finally to the full-blown orchestra of improvisers for Blues Forever (july 1981), with Chambea and Quartet To Quartet (that transitions from a sax quartet to a brass quartet) and of Rejoicing with the Light (january 1983). While the duets were often indulgent and rarely regained the magic of his solo-piano performances, the orchestral pieces showcased timbral sensibility, dense and almost chaotic harmonies, shifting textures and, in general, continuous change.
Abrams' multiple-personality disorder continued to produce relatively uneventful duets, for example Roots of Blue (january 1986) with bassist Cecil McBee, Duets and Solos (january 1993) with Roscoe Mitchell and Open Air Meeting (august 1996) with Marty Ehrlich, impressionistic chamber recordings, such as View from Within (september 1984) for octet, Colours in Thirty-Third (december 1986) for various combos, Familytalk (october 1993) for sextet, Think All Focus One (july 1994) for septet, Song for All (1995) for septet, and, above all, ambitious orchestral works that were festivals of deconstructed hard bop and free jazz: Hearinga Suite (january 1989), Blu Blu Blu (november 1990) and One Line Two Views (june 1995). Abrams returned only occasionally to the solo-piano format, notably with the 29-minute Piano Improvisation on The Visibility of Thought (december 2000) and the 59-minute three-movement live meditation Vision Towards Essence (september 1998)
Abrams also composed Variations for Solo Saxophone, Flute, and Chamber Orchestra (1982), Quintet for Soprano, Piano, Harp, Cello and Violin (1982), Improvisation Structures I - II - III - IV - V - VI for solo piano (1983), Odyssey of King (1984) and Saturation Blue (1986) for chamber orchestra, String Quartet #2 (1985) and String Quartet #3 (1992), Saxophone Quartet #1 (1994), and a symphony for orchestra and jazz quartet, NOVI. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


One of the original members of Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, Chicago's saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell released the very first album of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
Sound (august 1966), mainly taken up by the 21-minute Sound, truly set the standard for the rest of Chicago's creative music. The sextet (with trumpeter Lester Bowie, tenor saxophonist Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, trombonist/cellist Lester Lashley, bassist Malachi Favors, drummer Alvin Fiedler) challenged the dogmas of jazz improvisation and composition, venturing into dissonance and unusual timbres (even toy instruments). The instruments just did not sound like themselves: they were mere vehicles to produce abstract sounds. These sounds derived from the extended (and mostly dissonant) ranges of the instruments were made to interact and overlap. Sound explored the timbres of percussion instruments, and the ten-minute Little Suite focused on the subtleties of "little instruments". But the real breakthrough was the very notion of how to play: this was highly intellectual music, meant to be used by a brain, not by a heart, unlike New York's free jazz that was meant to be emphatic and frantic. These musicians were European scientists, not African shamans. They were scientists of the subtle. Thus the effect was that they were more interested in "silence" and in microtones than in "music". Silence was indeed the "space" in which music happened: silence was a key ingredient in the musical event.
Old/ Quartet (may 1967), mainly taken up by the 38-minute Quartet and released only in 1975, showed further progress/regress towards a music of minimal and primitive gestures. The live shows, that included pantomimes and clownish acts, besides the arsenal of "odd" instruments, increased the feeling that Mitchell's music was a form of theater. Free-jazz musicians, no matter how radical their experiments, had performed using bebop instrumentation and behaving like bebop performers, but the Art Ensemble showed no respect for these conventions. In 1967 the renamed Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble was paired down to a quartet with Bowie, Favors and a drummer. And perhaps the real manifesto of Mitchell's revolution was Congliptious (march 1968), an album that first redefined the jazz solo with three solos for bass (Tutankhamen), alto saxophone (Tkhke) and trumpet (Jazz Death?), and then resumed the project of redefining harmony with the 19-minute Congliptious/Old.
As the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEOC), without a drummer and with the addition of saxophonist Joseph Jarman, took on an identity of its own, Mitchell's austere, highbrow experiment was somewhat modified to interpret a more humane, populist and even playful concept of music. Instead of a futuristic revolution, the AEOC embodied a synthesis of classical jazz, African music, American folk music and European classical music. It also embodied a strong sense of humour (unheard of in jazz since the heydays of New Orleans) and a political message. It even emphasized a circus-like theatrical element that harked back to the plantations and to Africa itself. This group was extremely prolific during its stay in Europe. Much of the music that they recorded was trivial and redundant, but some pieces do stand out: A Jackson in Your House (june 1969), dominated by Mitchell's 17-minute Song For Charles, Tutankhamun (june 1969), with Mitchell's 15-minute The Ninth Room (and a tedious version of the title-track), The Spiritual (june 1969), with Mitchell's 20-minute The Spiritual, People in Sorrow (july 1969), that contained just one 40-minute piece, perhaps their masterpiece, A Message to Our Folks (august 1969), with the 20-minute A Brain For The Seine and the eight-minute Rock Out (Jarman on guitar, Favors on bass, Mitchell and Bowie on percussion), Reese and the Smooth Ones (august 1969), another 40-minute piece, Eda Wobu (october 1969), an even longer (but far less engaging) live jam, Certain Blacks (february 1970), another minor album, with a 24-minute cover of Chicago Beau's Certain Blacks, Go Home (april 1970), with the 15-minute Dance. There were elements that acknowledged the innovations of Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman, but reinterpreted according to the quartet's unique aesthetic, that had little patience for musical dogmas.
The AEOC became a quintet with the addition of drummer Famoudou "Don" Moye, whose devilish polyrhythms added a new dimension to the band's sound on Chi Congo (june 1970), with the 11-minute tribal maelstrom Chi-Congo, the 14-minute free-jazz work-out Enlorfe and the ten-minute orgy of Hipparippp, the film soundtrack Les Stances a Sophie (july 1970), with Fontella Bass on vocals and piano (Theme de Yoyo, a pioneering fusion of funk, soul and jazz), With Fontella Bass (august 1970), mainly divided between the 18-minute Ole Jed and the 19-minute Horn Web, and Phase One (february 1971), divided into two side-long jams, Ohnedaruth and Lebert Aaly.
The AEOC returned to Chicago in january 1972 and recorded Live at Mandel Hall (january 1972), the politicized Bap-Tizum (september 1972), including Unanka and Ohnedaruth, and Fanfare for the Warriors (september 1973), with Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, containing Mitchell's Nonaah, Favors' Illistrum and Jarman's Fanfare For The Warriors. Despite the publicity, the quintet had lost much of its charm. On the other hand, its music had become much more accessible.
In the meantime, Mitchell had recorded some more milestones of the creative music. The live Solo Saxophone Concerts (july 1974) focused on Mitchell's playing, alternating on soprano, alto, tenor and bass saxophones.
Quartet (october 1975), featuring guitarist Spencer Barefield, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and trombonist George Lewis, offered a summary of Mitchell's ideas, from the emotional Tnoona to the unemotional duet of Music for Trombone and B Flat Soprano, from the cerebral group piece Cards to the lyrical trombone solo of Olobo.
Nonaah (february 1977), featuring an all-star cast of improvisers in different combinations, delivered two expanded versions of Mitchell's most famous composition, Nonaah (a 22-minute solo and especially a 17-minute version for the alto saxophone quartet of Mitchell, Jarman, Threadgill and Wallace McMillan) and assorted experiments, notably Tahquemenon in trio with Abrams and Lewis, A1 TAL 2LA in duo with Favors and the 13-minute solo Improvisation 1.
Sketches from Bamboo (june 1979) tackled the large-ensemble format (which he called Creative Orchestra). Mitchell's chamber music reached a zenith with the double LP LRG/ The Maze/ S2 Examples (july 1978), that contained three of his most austere, complex and difficult compositions: the 17-minute soprano saxophone solo S2 Examples, the 36-minute LRG (which stands for Leo Smith, Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis), and the 21-minute The Maze for nonet, mostly on percussion (even Braxton, Threadgill, Favors and Jarman, besides Moye and Douglas Ewart) except Mitchell (saxes), Leo Smith (trumpet) and George Lewis (trombone). Not only were they fantastically disjointed, but they were more composed than they looked, being kept together by a cold logic of sound. The Maze ranked among the most sophisticated compositions for percussion ever.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago was still alive. They released Nice Guys (may 1978), with Bowie's Ja, Moye's Folkus and Jarman's Dreaming Of The Master, Full Force (january 1980), mainly taken up by Favors' Magg Zelma, the live Urban Bushmen (may 1980), perhaps the best of the later albums, with the 15-minute four-movement suite Urban Magic, Mitchell's Uncle and Moye's 22-minute Sun Precondition Two. The Third Decade (june 1984), and Naked (july 1986), the commercial sell-out.
Mitchell's career continued with his new creatures, the Sound Ensemble (trumpeter Hugh Ragin, guitarist Spencer Barefield, bassist Jaribu Shahid and percussionist Tani Tabal) and the Space Ensemble, that adopted a friendlier, more spontaneous and even hummable sound: Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes (december 1980), 3X4 Eye (february 1981), with Cutouts for Quintet and 3x4 Eye, The Sound and Space Ensembles (june 1983), that added vocalist Thomas Buckner, trumpeter Michael-Philip Mossman and saxophonist Gerald Oshita,
Out of collaborations with members of these ensembles came Mitchell's most experimental recordings of the period: More Cutouts (february 1981), with Hugh Ragin and Tani Tabbal; New Music for Woodwinds and Voice (january 1981), with Buckner and Oshita; An Interesting Breakfast Conversation (1984), again with Buckner and Oshita; First Meeting (december 1994), with pianist Borah Bergman and Buckner; and 8 O'Clock (december 2000), the third trio recording with Oshita and Buckner. Buckner's voice was a challenging factor for most of this phase.
A new quartet (Mitchell, Favors, pianist Jodie Christian, drummer Steve McCall) recorded The Flow of Things (september 1986). The Note Factory (Matthew Shipp on piano, Jaribu Shahid and William Parker on basses, and two percussionists) recorded This Dance is for Steve McCall (may 1992), that contained mostly tributes to dead friends. These ensemble works became less and less interesting, although at least the nonet of Nine To Get Ready (may 1997), with Hugh Ragin on trumpet, George Lewis on trombone, Matthew Shipp on piano, Craig Taborn on piano, Jaribu Shahid on bass, William Parker on double-bass, and two percussionists, the quartet of In Walked Buckner (february 1999), With Jodie Christian on piano, Reggie Workman on bass and Albert Heath on drums, and the nonet of Song For My Sister (february 2002) displayed sections of brilliant counterpoint.
Mitchell's career was now clearly split between jazz and classical music. Some of his classical compositions fared a lot better than his jazz combos: Prelude for vocals (Buckner), bass saxophone (Mitchell), contrabass sarrusophone (Gerald Oshita) and triple contrabass violin (Brian Smith) on Four Compositions (1988); some of the pieces for solo woodwinds and overdubbed woodwinds and little percussion of Sound Songs (october 1994), entirely played by himself; O the Sun Comes Up Up Up In The Opening on Pilgrimage (1994), credited to the New Chamber Ensemble (violinist Vartan Manoogian, pianist Joseph Kubera and especially baritone Thomas Buckner); and especially Solo 3 (2004), three discs of solo improvisations.
Mitchell also composed Variations and Sketches From The Bamboo Terrace for chamber orchestra (1988), Contacts Turbulents (1986), Memoirs of A Dying Parachutist for chamber orchestra (1995), Fallen Heroes for baritone and orchestra (1998), The Bells of FiftyNinth Street for alto saxophone and gamelan orchestra (2000), 59A for solo soprano saxophone (2000), Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City (2002), etc. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Anthony Braxton was the "creative" musician who displayed the most obvious affinity with western classical music, scoring chamber music (both for solo instrument and for small ensembles), as well as orchestral music, that seemed aimed at extending the vocabulary of European music rather than the vocabulary of jazz music. If his was jazz music, it was the most cerebral jazz ever.
Better than any other jazz musician, Braxton represented the quantum leap forward that jazz music experienced after free jazz opened the doors of abstract composition. The music that was born as an evolution of blues and ragtime suddenly competed with the white avantgarde for radical redefinitions of the concept of harmony. Following in the footsteps of John Cage and Karlheinz Stockhausen, Braxton introduced new graphic notations to capture the subtleties of his scores, and even titled his pieces with diagrams instead of words. He invented new ways of composing and performing music. He also loved to write about his musical theory.
As a virtuoso of woodwind instruments (particularly of the alto saxophone), Braxton worked to extend the timbre and the technique. But, unlike his predecessors, Braxton was motivated by science rather than by emotion. Originally inspired by John Coltrane, he impersonated Coltrane's antithesis.
In 1967 Braxton formed a trio with violinist Leroy Jenkins and trumpeter Leo Smith, the Creative Construction Company, that gladly dispensed with the rhythm section, with melody and with traditional harmony. Three Compositions of New Jazz (april 1968), that also featured Muhal Richard Abrams on piano, contained the 20-minute Comp. 6E, the manifesto of Braxton's style (at the same time abstract, visceral and geometric). The record sleeve provided the graphic scores of the music, that looked more like mathematical equations, and explained the chance-based technique that were incorporated in those scores (a` la John Cage's aleatory music). A few months later Braxton became the first musician ever to record an album of saxophone solos, For Alto (february 1969). This groundbreaking double-LP album contained eight extended pieces (each cryptically dedicated to a musician), culminating with another 20-minute juggernaut, Comp. 8B. His playing showed little respect for jazz traditions, but a lot of curiosity for textures and patterns. While this was mostly music of the brain, it was performed with an almost hysterical intensity. Braxton himself seemed reluctant to continue the project.
The trio's contemporary Silence (july 1969), released only six years later, contained Jenkins' 17-minute Off The Top Of My Head and Smith's 15-minute Silence, two pieces that were less radical and more obviously in the free-jazz vein. The French album Anthony Braxton (september 1969) sounded like an appendix to the trio's music, with Smith's ten-minute The Light On The Dalta and Jenkins' nine-minute Simple Like, but also included a new Braxton vision, the 20-minute Comp. 6G. The line-up consisted of the trio plus drummer Steve McCall. It looked more conventional on paper, but Braxton played all sorts of woodwinds, Smith played horns and siren besides trumpet, and Jenkins toyed with viola, flute, harmonica, etc. Adding pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and drummer Steve McCall, Creative Construction Company (may 1970), released in 1976, was mainly taken up by a 34-minute Jenkins composition, Muhal. The second volume (same session) was, again, a colossal Jenkins track, No More White Gloves.
In the meantime, Braxton had formed Circle, a quartet with pianist Chick Corea, British double-bassist Dave Holland and drummer Barry Altschul. Their first document, Circulus (august 1970), credited to Corea when released as a double-LP in 1975, contained three lengthy collective improvisations titled Quartet Piece. Circling In (october 1970), again credited to Corea when released as a double-LP in 1978, was a less cryptic recording, highlighted by Chimes and Braxton's Comp. 6F. The Complete (february 1971) offered more of Braxton's compositions employing Holland, Altschul, Corea, plus trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and multiple tubas, in different settings. The Gathering (may 1971), the first studio album credited to Circle, contained only one 42-minute Corea composition, the title-track, and each of the four members played multiple instruments.
Relocating to New York in 1970, Braxton became the recognized guru of creative music. Together Alone (december 1971), released in 1975, inaugurated the series of Braxton duets. This one was with Joseph Jarman (both alternating at multiple instruments), highlighted by Jarman's 14-minute Dawn Dance One and Braxton's 15-minute Comp. 20.
Finally, Braxton gave For Alto a successor, and it almost sounded like everything he had done in between the two masterpieces was merely a long rehearsal. Saxophone Improvisations Series F (february 1972) was again a double-LP collection of lengthy tracks dedicated to musicians. The longest, Comp. 26F, was dedicated to minimalist composer Philip Glass, and for a good reason: the influence of minimalist repetition was strong, lending the album its hypnotic, otherworldly quality. Braxton's process was obscure and often not very musical, but the concentration was worthy of a physicist discovering a new substance. These pieces openly unveiled the process of distortion, variation and repetition that underlay the neurotic, claustrophobic feeling of Braxton's music.
The three-LP live album Creative Music Orchestra (march 1972) introduced a new side of Braxton. Four trumpets, four saxophones, tuba, piano, two bassists and two percussionists performed twelve Braxton compositions.
Town Hall 1972 (may 1972) included the 35-minute Comp 6P for Braxton, Altschul, Holland, Jeanne Lee (vocals) and John Stubblefield (woodwinds).
Braxton's new quartet, that basically replaced Corea's piano with Kenny Wheeler's trumpet (keeping Holland and Altschul), debuted on Live at Moers Festival (june 1974), a double-LP that contained six of Braxton's cryptic and overlong compositions.
But the prolific Braxton was recording non-stop, rarely replicating the powerful atmosphere of his masterpieces: Four Compositions (january 1973) for a trio with percussionist Masahiko Sato and bassist Keiki Midorikawa; First Duo Concert (june 1974) and Royal (july 1974) with British guitarist Derek Bailey; Trio and Duet (october 1974), that contained Comp 36 for Braxton (clarinets), Smith (trumpet) and Richard Teitelbaum (synthesizer); New York Fall 1974 (september 1974), that contained Comp 37 for a saxophone quartet (Braxton, Julius Hemphill, Oliver Lake and Hamiet Bluiett), Comp 38A for saxophone and synthesizer (Richard Teitelbaum), Comp 23A for sax-violin-trumpet quintet (Wheeler, Jenkins, Holland, drummer Jerome Cooper); Five Pieces (july 1975), that contained Comp 23E for the quartet (Braxton, Holland, Altschul and Wheeler); etc. Most of these albums were trivial, although each contained something that opened new directions for experimental music.
Braxton returned to the most ambitious idea of his career with Creative Orchestra Music (february 1976), six relatively short pieces for a mid-size ensemble that constituted his most eclectic output yet.
In between these seminal recordings, Braxton wasted his talent in erratic collaborations. Duets with trombonist George Lewis yielded Elements of Surprise (june 1976), dominated by Lewis' Music For Trombone and Bb Soprano, and Donaueschingen (october 1976), dominated by Lewis' 41-minute Fred's Garden. Duets with synthesist Richard Teitelbaum yielded Time Zones (june 1976), taken up by Teitelbaum's Crossing and Behemoth Dreams. Further collaborations accounted for Duets (august 1976) with pianist Muhal Richard Abrams and Duets (december 1976) with Roscoe Mitchell also on reeds.
Dortmund (october 1976) documented the new quartet with Lewis replacing Wheeler (especially in the long Comp 40F), while Quintet (june 1977) documented the quintet of Braxton, Lewis, Abrams, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Charles "Bobo" Shaw.
Among all these mediocre recordings one stood out: For Trio (september 1977), containing two versions of Comp 76 (one with Henry Threadgill and Douglas Ewart, and one with Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman). The sheer number of instruments played by each member of the two trios was unheard of in jazz music.
He revisited two of his greatest ideas in rather inferior albums: Solo (may 1978) and Creative Orchestra (may 1978), that he only conducted (without playing). But then he outdid himself on For Four Orchestras (may 1978), that contained just one colossal piece, the two-hour Comp 82 for 160 musicians and four conductors: the four orchestras surrounded the audience, that was given a chance to hear the chaotic interplay as it strove to evolve towards organic music. Braxton planned to score similar symphonies for six, eight, ten, and eventually 100 orchestras. The Alto Saxophone Improvisations (november 1979) were also more interesting, although a far cry from his two solo masterpieces. At last, his algorithmic music was heading for magniloquent drama.
Two of his best albums of this period were collaborations with veteran drummer Max Roach: Birth and Rebirth (september 1978) and One In Two - Two In One (august 1979).
Performance (september 1979) and Seven Compositions (november 1979) introduced a piano-less quartet with trombonist Ray Anderson.
In the meantime the routine of avantgarde compositions resumed. Composition No. 94 (april 1980) contained two versions of the piece (forward and backward reading) for saxophone or clarinet, guitar and trombone. For Two Pianos (september 1980) contained Braxton's 50-minute Comp. 95 performed by Frederic Rzewski and Ursula Oppens. Braxton returned to the large ensemble for Composition N. 96 (may 1981). Open Aspects (march 1982) was another session with Richard Teitelbaum (now a specialist of computer interaction), but this time it was dominated by Braxton's compositions.
Composition 113 (december 1983) was a new solo album, but different from anything he had done before. First of all, Braxton played only soprano saxophone. Second, the album contained a six-movement suite that told a story. It was one of his most "humane" works.
The quartet remained Braxton's favorite format, but it began to include the piano. Composition 98 (january 1981) documented a transitional quartet with Anderson and pianist Marilyn Crispell. The quartet consisted of pianist Anthony Davis, bassist Mark Helias and drummer Edward Blackwell on Six Compositions - Quartet (october 1981), and for once the players prevailed over the composer. Four Compositions - Quartet (march 1983) was a more composition-oriented effort by a quartet with Lewis, bassist John Lindberg and white percussionist Gerry Hemingway. Six Compositions - Quartet (1984) featured Crispell, Lingberg and Hemingway. Quartet (november 1985) had stabilized with pianist Marilyn Crispell, double-bassist Mark Dresser and drummer Gerry Hemingway, although Five Compositions - Quartet (july 1986) replaced Crispell with David Rosenboom.
The list of experiments was virtually infinite. The Aggregate (august 1986), a collaboration with the Rova Saxophone Quartet, contained Composition 129. Ensemble (october 1988) contained the 41-minute Composition No. 141 for Braxton's saxophones, trombone (Lewis), tenor saxophone (Evan Parker), trumpet, vibraphone, bass and percussion. The Seven Compositions (march 1989) were scored for trio. Eugene (january 1989) collected eight compositions for orchestra. Composition No. 165 (february 1992) was scored for 18 instruments. Two Lines (october 1992) contained duets with David Rosenboom at software-controlled piano. The twelve alto solos of Wesleyan (november 1992) and the Four Ensemble Compositions (march 1993) were, again, pale imitations of past masterpieces. 11 Compositions (march 1995) were duets with a koto player. Octet (november 1995) contained Comp. 188, almost one-hour long. Ensemble (november 1995) contained Comp. 187 for a ten-piece combo. Tentet (june 1996) contained the 67-minute Comp. 193. The most fascinating album of the period, Composition 192 (june 1996), was a duet with vocalist Lauren Newton.
However, Braxton's focus was finally changing. Composition 174 (february 1994) was a sort of soundtrack for a theatrical event, scored for ten percussionists and narrating voice. Anthony Braxton with the Creative Jazz Orchestra (may 1994) debuted his Trillium Dialogues M, his version of the opera. Composition 173 (december 1994) was another piece for both actors and musicians. Composition 102 (march 1996) was even music for puppet theater. Composition 162, off Trillium R - Shala Fears For The Poor (october 1996) was an opera in four acts for nine singers, nine instrumentalists (tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, baritone saxophone, flute, oboe, bass clarinet, clarinet, French horn, trombone) and 40-piece "tri-centric" orchestra (alto and soprano saxophones, two trumpets, three clarinets, bass clarinet, two flutes, oboe, bassoon, harp, six violins, two violas, two cellos, two basses, accordion, two French horns, trombone, tuba, three percussionists).
Four Compositions (august 1995) for quartet and Composition 193 (june 1996) for tentet inaugurated yet another strand of Braxton's art, "ghost trance music". And several hour-long compositions performed with the students of his classes indulged in all aspects of his musical exploration: Composition 207 to Composition 212 for six reed players, guitar, bass and percussion, off the triple-disc Ninetet at Yoshi's (august 1997); Composition 227 and Composition 228 for trio of reeds, off Two Compositions (april 1998); Composition 223 for 15-piece ensemble off Four Compositions (may 1998); Composition 169 + (186 + 206 + 214) (june 2000) for saxophone quartet and symphonic orchestra; Composition 247 (may 2000) for two saxophonists and bagpipes; Composition 249 (may 2000), a duet with fellow saxophonist Brandon Evans; the 91-minute Composition 286 for tentet (five reed players, two trumpeters, guitar, bass and percussion), off Six Compositions (january 2001); Composition 343 for reeds, cornet, guitar, bass and percussion, off Quintet (november 2004); Composition 345 for saxophones, trumpet, viola/violin, tuba, bass and percussion, off Sextet (may 2005).
4 Compositions - Phonomanie VIII (june 2005) contains the 35-minute Comp. 301 for solo piano, the 47-minute Comp. 323 A ("tri-centric version" for reeds, electronics, cornet and percussion), and two compositions for large ensemble (reeds, electronics, piano, clarinets, alto saxophones, trumpet, trombone, tuba, guitar, violins, viola, cello, bass, including two conductors besides himself, a synchronous conductor and a polarity conductor): the 56-minute Comp. 96 + 134 and the 65-minute Comp. 169 + 147. 9 Compositions - Iridium (march 2006) documented the world premieres of Compositions 350 through 358 (each about one hour long) as performed by his 12+1tet (roughly four saxophonists, trumpet, guitar, flute, viola, trombone, tuba, bassoon, bass, percussion) over the course of four nights in a New York club, the final works in the "ghost trance music" series. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The "other" members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago were not as prolific as Mitchell but also produced some important recordings of the era.


Alto saxophonist Joseph Jarman headed a sextet (with tenorist Fred Anderson, piano, trumpet, bass, drums) for one of the pioneering works of the AACM, Song For (october 1966). Its 14-minute Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City and 13-minute Song For were typical of the soundsculpting aesthetic that was being created. Jarman, who often employed multimedia presentations (particularly poetry and dance), based the former on a poem of his, and conceived the latter as an exploration of empty space. As If It Were the Seasons (june 1968) contained two side-long group improvisations, Song For Christopher and As If It Were the Seasons for an even broader ensemble. Both focused on the space where music happens, the latter contrasting a naive theme with the emptiness in which it floated. Frank Lowe's Black Beings (march 1973) contained Jarman's Thulani. Jarman's albums after joining the Art Ensemble Of Chicago displayed a progression towards more and more sophisticated harmonies: the live solo Sunbound (december 1976), the multi-part suite Egwu-Anwu/ Sun Song (january 1978) with Don Moye, and especially Magic Triangle (july 1979), a trio with Moye and pianist Don Pullen. Jarman and Moye continued their partnership with more accessible works such as Black Paladins (december 1979), in trio with a bassist (and devoted mostly to covers), Earth Passage (february 1981), in quartet with a bassist and a trombonist (and containing his multi-part Zulu Village), Inheritance (december 1983), in a quartet with a bassist and pianist Geri Allen (Inheritance and Love Song For A Rainy Monday). But best was Calypso's Smile (march 1984), a set of duets with Moye that including Morning Desert Song and Treibhaus Tribal Stomp. After a long hiatus, Jarman returned with a duet with Marilyn Crispell, Connecting Spirits (january 1996), containing his Meditation on a Vow of Compassion, and a quartet with violinist Leroy Jenkins, pianist Myra Melford and bassist Lindsey Horner, Out Of The Mist (october 1997). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Unlike his cohorts in the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, trumpeter Lester Bowie, who relocated from St Louis to Chicago in 1965, was grounded in the jazz tradition. Unlike Roscoe Mitchell, Bowie maintained a close relationship with the idea of music as fun. In a sense, he represented Mitchell's alter-ego, complementing the partner's classical ambitions with a more populist approach. Nonetheless, Bowie was one of the most daring trumpeters of his generation, and one of the few to adopt free jazz, capable of producing a broad range of sounds. Bowie's debut album, Numbers 1 & 2 (august 1967), contained two lengthy free-form jams that basically previewed the Art Ensemble Of Chicago (one is a trio with bassist Malachi Favors and saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, and the other one is a quartet with Joseph Jarman). His sense of humour emerged from Fast Last (september 1974), an odd collection of different styles, highlighted (on the serious front) by a duet with altoist Julius Hemphill, the 13-minute Fast Last C, and Rope-A-Dope (june 1975), with Favors, Don Moye, drummer Charles Bobo Shaw and trombonist Joseph Bowie. These albums amply betrayed his tender love for blues and gospel music, a love that blossomed on The Fifth Power (1978), a quintet featuring altoist Arthur Blythe, pianist Amina Myers, Favors and drummer Phillip Wilson that reworked a gospel traditional into an 18-minute juggernaut; while the same quintet crafted the double LP African Children (april 1978) that synthesized all his disparate influences and moods in 20-minute pieces such as Amina, Chili MacDonald and For Fela. The Great Pretender (june 1981) marked the beginning of his conversion to a more radio-friendly form of gospel-jazz-rock fusion, that, despite the parenthesis of All the Magic (june 1982), whose second disc is a suite of brief satirical trumpet solos, led to Bowie's artistic demise. Whether it was a case of crossover or sell-out, the Brass Fantasy (a brass octet of four trumpets, two trombones, French horn and tuba plus a drummer) that debuted with I Only Have Eyes for You (february 1985) and Avant Pop (march 1986) ended up playing mainly pop, jazz, funk and blues covers. The best original material was provided by trombonist Steve Turre. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


Famoudou "Don" Moye who joined the Art Ensemble Of Chicago in 1970 and moved to Chicago in 1971, employed an arsenal of percussion instruments on Sun Percussion (march 1975), turning it into a symphony of delicate timbres at the border between noise and trance.


Reed player "Kalaparush" Maurice McIntyre, another alumnus of Muhal Richard Abrams' Experimental Band, added an intense spiritual fervor to the abstract paradigms of Chicago's creative music (basically transporting the intuition of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane into a different context). He also straddled the line between rhythm'n'blues and free jazz in a spontaneous way that had few equals. Humility in the Light of the Creator (february 1969), featuring Leo Smith on trumpet, John Stubblefield on woodwinds, Malachi Favors on bass, Amina Claudine Meyers on piano and George Hines' wordless vocals, contained the five-movement suite Ensemble Love and the 19-minute Ensemble Fate. McIntyre formed Light (Fred Hopkins on bass, Sarnie Garrett on electric guitar, Wesley Tyus on drums, Rita Omolokun on vocals) and recorded Forces and Feelings (november 1970). He then relocated to New York and began teaching at the "Creative Music Studio" that vibraphonist Karl Berger had opened in Woodstock in 1972. One of the least prolific of all creative musicians, McIntyre took a decade to find the inspiration for Peace and Blessings (june 1979), basically a duet between Longineu Parsons (on trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, sopranino, soprano and alto) and McIntyre (on tenor, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and percussion) plus a bassist and a drummer. The live Ram's Run (march 1981) featured a quartet with McIntyre on tenor, Julius Hemphill on alto, Malachi Thompson on trumpet and a drummer. After Dream Of (june 1998), in a trio with drummer Pheeroan Aklaff and bassist Michael Logan, McIntyre settled for a trio with a tuba player and a drummer on South Eastern (november 2001), the live The Moment (november 2001) and Morning Song (august 2003). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.