Zoh Amba: Bhakti

Hank Shteamer’s New York Times piece on Zoh Amba was my introduction to her and I’ve since been enjoying her playing quite a bit. She’s covering a lot of territory with her improvisations, and each piece on Bhakti is its own kind of trip.

Inspiration: Happiness

Abdul Wadud, “Happiness,” By Myself: Solo Cello, 1977.

“I hear the ‘Cello’ as being percussive, chordal, linear, in a group improvisation context, and capable of many effects. In short I hear it as an ‘instrument,’ and not as the ‘accustomed sweet sounding instrument’ which tends to stifle a whole new world of music.”

Inspiration: Wadada Leo Smith

The […] thing is that notion of creativity, not being afraid to explore your instrument, to allow the instrument to sound the way it will sound by itself no matter what you do to it. An instrument has a quality that, if you allow it to share it with you, to be a part of what you’re doing, it will give you a sound that no one else has. It will give you articulation and shapes or musical phrases and structures that no one has, and it will introduce this extra sonic aspect. It’s all inside the instrument, but most people fight hard to keep it from coming out.

— Wadada Leo Smith (interviewed here)

Inspiration: Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

47 years ago today, a group of musicians gathered in Chicago, IL to form an organization whose aim was to support music that fell outside the parameters of conventional practice, culture, and exhibition. The following week, the group came to be known by the name it has had since that day: the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, or the AACM for short.1

The AACM is still very much alive in Chicago (less so, it appears, in New York), still hosting concerts, students, resident musicians and groups, still very much a part of its local and broader communities. Further, the music it supports remains as diverse as ever, the depth of its commitment to what has been variously called Original Music, Creative Music (my personal favorite), and finally Great Black Music, unwavering.

Their work has been deeply inspiring to me the last few months, a reminder that one’s obligation as an artist is to try new things, however contrary they might at first be to one’s own practice; that one’s conscience is as good a guide as one is likely to find; that one should always strive for growth, both personally and with one’s instrument and group; and that music is a force of tremendous energy in all events.2

The roster of musicians who have been affiliated with the AACM through the years is nothing short of astonishing: Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Tomeka Reid, and countless others.

But because this is an anniversary, I’ll stick to the earliest AACM-affiliated recording I have on hand.

Joseph Jarman, “Little Fox Run,” Song For, 1966.

  1. For those interested in learning more, the AACM’s story is well-told in George Lewis’ remarkable A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music, a history of Chicago, jazz, African-American diaspora, and the struggle against the cultural status quo.

  2. I feel a relative affinity between the kind of social and cultural disruptions my peers and I have sought through our own independent music scene and those carried out by the AACM. Like so much else, however, this idea requires elaboration and amplification better suited to another post.