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by Seth Colter Walls

May 29, 2014

Radio: The AACM Scene

by Seth Colter Walls  |  May 29, 2014

Founded on Chicago’s South Side in 1965 by pianist-composer-educator Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians is nearing its half-century birthday. Though by the late '60s, when U.S. and European magazines started covering the collective’s first-generation stars — such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Anthony Braxton — it was already clear that, despite attempts to identify an “AACM sound,” there was really no such thing. The AACM is a self-empowerment philosophy more than it is a doctrinaire school of music, even if the determined sense of freedom that permeates many of its members’ recordings connotes a certain fellowship.

Some members have noted that the only way to hear the “AACM sound” would be to put all of the music by members together and hear it at once. With this radio station, we’ve done the next best thing, which is to toss in a ton of great albums made by members of the organization over the last half-century. Should you call the result jazz? Classical? Blues-informed experimentation? Other? All of the above? The organization’s motto offers a deliberately broad-minded clue: “Great black music.”

Click play and you’ll hear string quartets, symphonic works and improvised duets released by violinist Leroy Jenkins; large-ensemble big band music and striking solo ruminations by the trombonist George Lewis; and the many experimentations of Abrams, Braxton and next-generation stars such as Nicole Mitchell. The piano music of Amina Claudine Myers and the pioneering bands of Henry Threadgill are in here, too!

Many members of the AACM’s first generation are still going strong. In recent years I’ve seen Myers play duets with contemporary jazz stars like Vijay Iyer and Craig Taborn. Braxton presents new operas and works for a rotating number of small ensembles with astonishing regularity. And earlier in 2014, I saw Abrams play two sets in Brooklyn: The first was a solo-piano tour de force; the second, a mystical, largely improvised work for large ensemble that also engaged notated passages (and was conducted by Abrams). That radical aesthetic diversity can be found all over this radio station, too — even if it sounds different in the hands of each composer-improviser. If not a “sound” per se, their collective contributions to American music do make for quite a scene. So click play and start exploring.

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