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Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium: Long Live AACM and ECM!

Review of Festival in Guelph, Ontario on September 8-12, 2010

When I last visited the special jazz festival in Guelph, the college town in Ontario, an hour west of Toronto, it was 2005, and one of the strong thematic points of focus was on the power and lineage of the AACM, the highlight being a rare late-period performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, with trumpeter Corey Wilkes taking the chair of the late Lester Bowie. Returning this mid-September, given this year’s festival paying tribute to those notable jazz acronyms AACM and ECM, a kind of déjà vu sensation and a tinge or two of poignancy snuck into my thought stream.

This year, the AACM stars of choice boiled down to three powerhouses: the founding father and jazz sage-deserving-greater-recognition Muhal Richard Abrams, the returning Mitchell, and the “younger” cat George Lewis (pushing 60, compared to his seventy-something elders-Abrams turned 80 on September 19). In a panel discussion with these Chicago-bred masters, Abrams emerged as the calm, sagacious man on the mount, while also being down to earth. He spoke of creating the AACM in the early ’60s around young musicians in the process of self-realization, and pointing out that “improvisation is a human right. We specialize in sound improvisation.”

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