These compositions are from albums by artists that I love and respect, on which they were doing things I really liked. Notice that I say “albums,” because in each case I appreciated whole albums—but I listened to the whole thing and tried to narrow it down to individual tracks, with the knowledge that both original composition and openness to improvisation are mainstays for the AACM. As an artist, I found my own way, but I’ve been inspired by every one of these musicians.
“Washing the Mind”
Bamboo Meditation at Banff (Aarawak, 1994)
As the title says, this whole record on bamboo flute creates a meditative mood; this composition is very restful, but I also appreciate it because you can hear sounds of water flowing in a way that reminds me of my birthplace in Blackwell, Arkansas. We had a public well that had really good water that everybody used. They would gather there waiting patiently, having conversations, and you could feel the love between the people. This was something we all shared; it brought us together. Douglas’ composition makes me remember that.
“The Way I Hear It”
The Way I Hear It (UpTee, 1998)
Thurman is an exciting drummer, an exciting musician, who has his own style. “The Way I Hear It” opens with a trio—Thurman, Warren Smith, and Eli Fountain, all playing percussion, exploding with sounds and rhythmic improvisations. Later on, Warren comes in with a marimba solo, and Thurman puts a layer of mallets underneath the solos. It’s the sort of idea that he has that makes him an exciting musician, even on a piece like that that’s very short and direct. They make it flow along nicely.
Solo Concept: Percussion Peace (Abstract, 2005)
Along with Thurman, Reggie is my other favorite drummer, and very different from Thurman. This is a solo performance, and he uses both a MIDI sequencer and drums—first he programs the sequencer to play a musical background, and then he improvises on drums, bells, and percussion over the sequencer. He does this elsewhere on the album, but this is particularly beautiful: The sound and feeling he gets out of that combination is totally unique.
Nicole Mitchell’s Black Earth Ensemble & Ensemble Laborintus
Moments of Fatherhood (Rogue Art, 2016)
You don’t hear too many CDs talking about fathers and grandfathers, and I thought that was nice. This composition combines two time signatures, 7/4 and 8/4, very creatively and with freedom to improvise. But there’s also a very familiar and welcoming sound that makes me think of my own grandfather, who worked on the railroad. He was a quiet man, but he would sit out on the porch when he came in from work, chewing tobacco, and my cousin and I would say “Please, Grandfather, tell us a story!” He told fantastic stories.
Adegoke Steve Colson
“Triumph of the Outcasts, Coming”
The Untarnished Dream (Silver Sphinx, 2010)
What I love about this performance is the way Andrew Cyrille starts off with a long drum solo, sending up a mass of rhythm. Then Iqua comes in after him, singing about how “the outcast is now coming, the outcast is due,” then Adegoke on the piano. It’s an onslaught of sound, and within it you can hear the outcasts coming into the here and now, taking their place among this generation.
Joseph Jarman & Famoudou Don Moye
“Nke Ala (The Earth)”
Egwu-Anwu (Sun Song) (India Navigation, 1978)
This one is really wonderful. I didn’t realize that Joseph Jarman played the vibraphone! I love everything on the record, but “Nke Ala,” side three, is magnificent. It begins with low instruments, cowbells, whistles, sounding like a quiet, peaceful, idealistic place—it reminds me again of growing up in the country. Then Joseph, on the saxophone, and Moye get into a discussion; the vibraphone solo enters, by Joseph, and it’s just excellent.
Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre
“Ensemble Love: Kcab Emoh”
Humility in the Light of Creator (Delmark, 1969)
Kalaparusha’s first record was the first record I ever played on. I only played a little bit; when it was done, Kalaparusha asked me, “Why didn’t you play more?” I said, “You didn’t tell me to!” I learned a whole lot from Kalaparusha. On this record, George Hines—we called him G’Ra—is singing the wordless vocal, in his beautiful baritone voice, over this collective improvisation where so many instruments run one into the other. It’s very creative and powerful, and G’Ra’s voice just opens up the improvisation even more.
“Keep Right on Playing Thru the Mirror Over the Water”
Air Time (Nessa, 1978)
I once joined Air for a gig in New York. It was canceled, so I only ever played with them in the rehearsal. When I chose this album I expected to say something about Henry [Threadgill] and the hubkaphone, the instrument he made out of hubcaps. But then I listened to this tune. It’s a groove from Steve McCall and Fred Hopkins, and then Henry has a flute solo and it’s really, really beautiful. I even called Henry to tell him that I hadn’t heard him play like that.
Muhal Richard Abrams
“Mama and Daddy”
Mama and Daddy (Black Saint, 1980)
Muhal did so many things; I’m amazed and inspired every time I hear him. In “Mama and Daddy,” you really hear the blues: a 3/4 melody line from the whole ensemble floating over the rhythms, and then suddenly a fast-walking bass starts, and Baikida Carroll’s [trumpet] solo. Then Muhal enters freely, improvising over the walking bass. When it ends, it’s with the same theme that it opened with, just with Muhal’s solo piano. To my ears, that’s him remembering Mama and Daddy—remembering their beauty.
[as told to Michael J. West]