AACM Great Black Music Ensemble
Live at The Currency Exchange Volume 1
Yes, they are still performing, 53 years on. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians based in Chicago has spawned the vanguard of avant-garde improvised music with such names as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Jack DeJohnette, George Lewis, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill, and current leader Ernest Dawkins. The Great Black Music Ensemble is their flagship band and which can range from three to thirty pieces. This concert features a ten piece unit led by saxophonist and AACM griot Ernest Khabeer Dawkins. All music is completely improvised in a live setting.
The GBME is an intergenerational group bonded by the guiding principles of the great South Side organization and its dedication to exploring new sounds and rhythm while invigorating the traditions of black music including funk, reggae, bebop, swing and African and Caribbean styles. The AACM first coined the phrase Great Black Music t describe its unique direction in music. The AACM pays homage to the diverse styles of expression within the body of Black Music in the USA, Africa, and throughout the world. It extends from the ancient music of Africa to music of the future. The GBME performs live on the first Sunday of each month from 5 Pm to &PM at the Stony Island Arts Bank. For this performance (at the Currency Exchange Café on January 7th, 2018)) Dawkins on alto and soprano is joined by ; Jeremiah Collier (trap drums), Art Turk Burton (congas), Ed House (tenor), Ben Lamar Gay (cornet), Jerome Croswell (trumpet), Taalib din Ziyad, (flute and vocals), Adam Zanolini (flute, soprano), Micah Collier (bass), Maggie Brown (vocals) and Saalik Ziyad, keys effects and vocals.
The centerpiece of the set is the epic first track, “Ancient to The Future, Power Stronger Than Itself,” featuring Maggie Brown on vocals and spoken word. This little passage sums up the mission of the AACM succinctly – “What is JAZZ? A resilient spirit that my ancestors expressed. In spite of inhumane conditions, they found a way to make beauty and produce art. What is JAZZ? It is creation & improvisation that requires cooperation to create harmonization for whatever the instrumentation…”
African percussion intermingled with horn soloing, ensemble playing, and vocal chanting is the essence of most tracks, that range from three to six minutes in length. The “Reprise GBME“ features scat singing in the vein of Leon Thomas from Ziyad and the male vocalists with a crowd engaging singalong “Talking Great Black Music.” The middle section is especially percussion heavy with “The Call,” “Peace,” and “In The.” “Way Out East,” perhaps a twist on Sonny Rollins’ “Way Out West” is a longer piece that follows the shorter “East,” which features wordless vocals interspersed with percussion. “Way Out East” is an epic free form piece where the flute is prominent. The closer “Bells” is an outlier of sorts, relying on electronics minimal percussion, and plenty of spaces in the music.
The concert is filled with peak moments and worthy performances, especially in the first half. More states should charter creative expression like Illinois does for the AACM, a collective of musicians and composers dedicated to nurturing, performing, and recording serious, original music. It’s been some time since this writer revisited the AACM but the experience is certainly rewarding. You should do the same.
- Jim Hynes