#SQUADGOALS (33)

By: Franklin Bruno
August 16, 2017

One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars during 2017, on the subject of our favorite squads.

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Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in the front yard of the WJ Studios and Gallery in Chicago, IL, 1970. Photograph: Wadsworth Jarrell

In 1962, weary of running the changes on 32-bar standards and 12-bar blues in South Side jazz clubs, Chicago pianist/composer Muhal Richard Abrams convened open rehearsals of “The Experimental Band” to rehearse his own intricate charts, which — like Ellington’s before him — balanced notated sections with ample room for improvisation. The players around Abrams, and the younger musicians they drew into their orbit, formed the nucleus of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a non-profit collective chartered in 1965. Without institutional or commercial support (aside from early releases on Chicago blues label Delmark), its members promoted concerts in lofts and community centers, debated black aesthetics, culture, and politics, and — first and foremost — played one another’s original music when no one else would.

Beyond an emphasis on composition, in the broadest sense, distinct from the free jazz that emerged in New York around the same time, there has never been a single AACM style or sound, and a full list of the figures and musical approaches it has encompassed would strain the available space. (Key first- and second-generation names incude Wadada Leo Smith, Amina Claudine Meyers, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgill, Nicole Mitchell, and George Lewis.) The most visible careers nurtured by the group may be those of polymath and reed virtuoso Anthony Braxton, a musical world unto himself, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Famoudou Don Moye, and Malachi Favors), a squad-within-a-squad that maintained a consistent line-up for over 30 years, and whose motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future” could also be the larger collective’s. Not everyone lauded the AACM’s achievements. Amiri Baraka derided Braxton and others as the “Tail Europe” school, viewing their assimilation of Cage and Stockhausen as a betrayal of black musical principles, while the neo-traditionalism of Wynton Marsalis and critic Stanley Crouch shut them out of official jazz history, and Ken Burns’ PBS series.

Despite these attacks — and a split, since the late ’70s, between Chicago and New York chapters — the Association helped inspire St. Louis’ like-minded Black Arts Group and exerted a strong influence on European musicians, especially the Dutch. More recently, the group’s reputation has been burnished by George Lewis’s scholarly history A Power Greater Than Itself and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s exhibition The Freedom Principle, which reconstructed the Art Ensemble’s stage-filling battery of global percussion instruments. If fewer young musicians now fly the AACM banner, it is less a sign of irrelevance than of wide acceptance, within jazz and without, of their innovations: Braxton, Smith, and Mitchell are respected educators and mentors, and Threadgill’s In For a Penny, In For a Pound won the 2016 Pullitzer Prize. Co-founder (and Sun Ra sideman) Philip Cochran passed away earlier this year, but much of the old guard presses on: At the New York chapter’s 50th anniversary concert in 2015, Abrams’ and Mitchell’s 45-minute piano/sax duo rivaled musicians several decades their juniors for mutually supportive autonomy and sheer physical stamina.

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#SQUADGOALS: Annie Nocenti on THE WILD BUNCH | Alice Boone on PRETTY LITTLE LIARS | Gordon Dahlquist on BOWIE’S BAND | Rob Wringham on THE HOME GUARD | Jennifer Krasinski on WATERSHIP DOWN RABBITS | Annalee Newitz on ROBIN HOOD’S MERRY PALS | Adrienne Crew on THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | Mark Kingwell on THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | Adam McGovern on KAMANDI’S FAMILY | John Overholt on THE CLUB | Greg Rowland on THE VULTURE SQUADRON | Sara Ryan on BETSY, TACY & TIB | Chelsey Johnson on VI ÄR BÄST! | Brian Berger on THE JOHN FORD STOCK COMPANY | Sherri Wasserman on THE WARRIORS | Jessamyn West on FAREYNIKTE PARTIZANER ORGANIZATSYE | Josh Glenn on DADA | Matthew De Abaitua on THE TIME | Mandy Keifetz on THE FOUNDING FATHERS | William Nericcio on ZOOT SUIT PACHUCOS | Deb Chachra on FIREFLY CREW | Matthew Battles on THE ANIMAL FAMILY | Ingrid Schorr on THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS | Joe Alterio on THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS | Dan Reines on THE BREAKFAST CLUB | Rob Walker on LES TROIS INSÉPARABLES | Devin McKinney on 1975 RED SOX | Steph Burt on DAMAGE CONTROL | Elina Shatkin on THE HOLOGRAMS | Chris Spurgeon on THE ALKALI METALS | Carl Wilson on NEW YORK SCHOOL POETS | Barbara Bogaev on THE MOD SQUAD | Franklin Bruno on THE AACM | Judith Zissman on THE FUTURIANS | Mimi Zeiger on ARCHIGRAM | Jacob Mikanowski on THE RATBASTARDS | Lynn Peril on THE DALY SISTERS | Anindita Basu Sempere on MEG MURRY’S FAMILY | Peter Doyle on CORNEL WILDE BOYS | Gary Panter on THE TRIBE OF HIPPIES | Libi Rose on THE ENIAC TEAM | Ken Layne on THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG | Molly Wright Steenson on BAUHAUS | Katie Hennessey on BEAT POETS | Jordan Ellenberg on BOUBAKI | Mimi Lipson on THE RUNAWAYS | Kio Stark on TBD | Deborah Wassertzug on THE BLOODHOUND GANG | Colin Dickey on ACÉPHALE | Michael Campochiaro on THE SUICIDE SQUAD | David Smay on THE MYSTIC KNIGHTS OF THE OINGO BOINGO | Karinne Keithley Syers on BLACK LIPS PERFORMANCE CULT.

MORE ENTHUSIASM at HILOBROW

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