Special Legends Edition Chicago
Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Chicago Jazz Festival
August 29, 2013
Roscoe Mitchell, soprano and sopranino
saxophones, baroque flute, bass recorder
Henry Threadgill, alto saxophone, bass flute
Muhal Richard Abrams, piano
Larry Gray, bass and cello
Jack DeJohnette, percussion
“Jack Five” (Abrams)
“The Museum of Time” (DeJohnette)
“Leave, Don’t Go Away” (Threadgill)
Jack DeJohnette has long been leading groups under the Special Edition name. For this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, he assembled an Edition with an AACM slant: Muhal Richard Abrams is a co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, established in Chicago in 1965; Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill are both founding members of the group, which might be described as an effort in musical self-determination and self-sufficiency. Last night’s performance was far from what a traditionally-minded listener might call “jazz”: the music was often atonal; solos were almost non-existent. The music might be better understood as a set of dialogues and interludes: piano accompanying drums; saxophone accompanying saxophone; one instrument giving way to another. Where was the beat? It was everywhere, pulsing and shifting and changing colors.
The most compelling moments in last night’s music, for me: the two-saxophone intensity and swirling piano of “Chant,” whose repeated scalar figures sounded like calls to prayer or dark omens; the bass flute/bass recorder/cello chamber music of the third, unannounced composition; the Ellington and Mingus overtones and exotica in “The Museum of Time”; and the raucous encore, with Mitchell lifting his soprano almost straight above his head. DeJohnette was endlessly responsive to his fellow musicians. To use an Ellington phrase, he put the pots and pans on, all of them, coloring and commenting with sticks and mallets and even a microphone (held above and below cymbals to produce a raspy hum). But the secret hero of the night was Larry Gray, the one musician without an AACM connection, who is as capable on cello as on bass, and who locked eyes and minds with DeJohnette to create the most solid of foundations. Gray’s authority made me think of Malachi Favors, bassist for the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and that’s as great a compliment as I can offer.
A note on production values: A video screen behind and above musicians evidently makes it impossible for me to pay attention to musicians. I felt like an idiot watching them on the screen, yet there I was, watching the screen. The sad part: one couldn’t not watch the screen, which overpowered the human beings on the stage. It was impossible to look at them without seeing it.
Icing on the last night’s cake — or, really, a second cake: Elaine and I met up with the owner and sole proprietor of Music Clip of the Day for conversation and coffee and tea. He’s added some music to many of my days.
January 20, 2015: Made in Chicago, a recording of this perfomance, is scheduled for March 10 release on ECM.
Related reading and viewing
Jumbotron Jam (Elaine’s take)
Photographs of last night’s concert, by Robert Loerzel
Friday, August 30, 2013
By Michael Leddy at 4:44 PM