Muhal Richard Abrams

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
Krentz Ratings:
Levels and Degrees of Light (1967), 7.5/10
Young at Heart/ Wise in Time (1969), 6.5/10
Things to Come from Those Now Gone (1972), 6/10
Afrisong (1975), 6/10
Sightsong (1975), 5/10
Duets (1976), 5/10
Lifelong Ambitions (1977), 5/10
1-OQA+19 (1977), 7/10
Lifea Blinee (1978), 5.5/10
Spihumanisty (1979), 5.5/10
Mama and Daddy (1980), 7/10
Blues Forever (1981), 7.5/10
Duet (1981), 5/10
Rejoicing with Light (1983), 7/10
View From Within (1984), 5/10
Colors in Thirty-Third (1986), 5/10
Roots of Blue (1986), 4.5/10
Hearing a Suite (1989), 7/10
Blu Blu Blu (1990), 7/10
Duets and Solos (1993), 4.5/10
Family Talk (1993), 5/10
All Focus One (1994), 5/10
Song for All (1995), 5/10
One Line Two Views (1995), 7/10
Open Air Meeting (1996), 4.5/10
Vision Towards Essence (1998), 6.5/10
The Visibility of Thought (2000), 6.5/10
Streaming (2005), 5/10
Spectrum (2010), 6/10
Soundpath (2018), 7/10

Chicago's pianist "Muhal" Richard Abrams (1930) 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, 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 (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 solo-piano 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.

Streaming (january 2005) documents a session by Muhal Richard Abrams (on piano, percussion, flute), George Lewis (on trombone and laptop) and Roscoe Mitchell (on saxophones).

Spectrum (Mutable, 2010) contains Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell Thomas Buckner Romu, an improvisation by Muhal Richard Abrams and Roscoe Mitchell, Abrams' Mergertone, and Mitchell's Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City (composed in 2002 and premiered in february 2003).

SoundDance documents two live improvisations with Fred Anderson on tenor sax and with George Lewis on electronics, laptop and trombone.

Celestial Birds (Karl, 2019) compiles electronic compositions: The Bird Song (december 1967), Think All Focus One (july 1994) and Spihumonesty (july 1979).

The 40-minute orchestral suite of Soundpath was premiered in 2012 with saxophonist Bobby Zankel and his Warriors of the Wonderful Sound (and recorded in october 2018 without Abrams).

Abrams died in 2018 at the age of 87.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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