The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians

and the (Aural) Arts After Jazz


2008 brought forth two books that already rank among the essential studies of the music we know as experimental, avant garde, Jazz, Improvised, Modernist Classical, or Minimal: Branden Joseph's Beyond the Dream Syndicate: Tony Conrad and the Arts After Cage and George Lewis's A Power Stronger Than Itself: The A.A.C.M and American Experimental Music. The former covers not just Conrad, but Henry Flynt, LaMonte Young, and Jack Smith, among others, and after an awkward beginning offers some of the finest writing on modern music and visual art in recent memory (as exemplary as Stephen Watson's Factory Made: Warhol and the Sixties [2003], for one). As the subtitle suggests, John Cage looms in the background, though not as the phantom namesake for ideas—ideologies, even—he supposedly espoused with sage-like repose (how we usually meet him these days). Rather, Joseph takes us back to the late 1950's-early 1960's, when Cage was a prolific working artist at the peak of his renown, Young was urgently responding to the challenge of Cage's work, and Flynt and Conrad responded in kind. The recreation of a crucial—though "minor," as the author proposes—aspect of those epochal years (which, besides the Fluxus and Minimalist movements he addresses, also witnessed Free Jazz, the ONCE festivals, the French New Wave, "Pop Art," and a newly-prominent place for sound poetry and non-narrative film) is nothing short of remarkable; anyone with even remote interest in the arts of the time absolutely should read, and read again, the related chapters of Joseph's book.

Lewis's history of the Chicago-born organization that inexorably radicalized the very notion of Jazz is no less ambitious—appropriately enough—yet its prose is often thick and unwieldy, surely recognizable to those who have sampled the products of contemporary university presses; the author breaks from this tendency largely for personal reminiscence (as he is an Association member). Being more familiar with artists who came out of the A.A.C.M than with those Joseph discusses, A Power Stronger Than Itself has prompted reminders, and demanded reconsiderations, of how I conceptualize music. Joseph's book will over time hopefully become a highly-regarded frequently-recommended book among contemporary artists looking to understand their predecessors. Lewis's, on the other hand, will surely lead to some responding scholarly endeavors, and has received perfunctory coverage from the Jazz press, but I cannot but think will fail to resonate with younger peers. The lingering problem that explains this fate serves as Lewis's central topic: the inability of Americans (and others) to grant Jazz its proper place in the pantheon of Twentieth-Century music, and furthermore to respect the artistic visions of African American musicians whose work moves beyond the purview, however expansive, of Jazz. Notice the word proper: of course Jazz is given a major place in any given survey of modern cultural history; but largely as a phenomenon in and of itself, not part of Modernist/ experimental music, which in turn accounts for the tendency to discredit those artists who we think should fit our "jazz" molds, but don't. This distorted history allows a writer like Joseph to give Cage such a prominent place. As the title of this essay suggests, such a perspective fails to account for the origin of much contemporary experimental music in Jazz and song composing, or at least beyond the academic realms of "high" art, the result being the melding-together of the popular and the experimental that took place in the final decades of the Twentieth Century.

Experimental Music and the Written Word
Granted, these books attain their high status partially because of the lack of competition. Roger Sutherland's New Perspectives in Music [1994] deserves special notice, first, due to its unfortunate obscurity, being out of print and only published in Britain in the first place, and, second, because of the clarity, and equanimity, with which it relates nearly a century of changes in Classical/ post-Classical music. Michael Nyman's Experimental Music: Cage and Beyond, published in 1974 and now seen even by its author (who did not revise the book when it was reissued in 1999) as more of a relic of its time and place, still offers the best review of the post-Cage and Minimalist scenes; I will address certain conceptual problems it offers below. A wide array of books centered on the development of electronic music range from the decent (Thomas Holmes's Electronic and Experimental Music) to the dreadful (Mark Pendergast's The Ambient Century). Other examples confine themselves to the Jazz and Improvised realms: Val Wilmer's As Serious as Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz [1977], John Litweiler's The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 [1984], John Szwed's Space Is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra [1997], and Ben Watson's Derek Bailey and the Story of Free Improvisation [2004].

Other first-rank books consider music and sound together, or in tandem with other arts, bypassing the common terrain of gigs and discographies in a manner that is admirable but also fails to engage with the work of many experimental-music artists: notably, R Murray Schafer's The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World [1977], David Toop's Ocean of Sound: Aether Talk, Ambient Sound and Imaginary Worlds [1995], and Douglas Kahn's Noise Water Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts [1999]. Indeed, the concept of "Sound Art," still surprisingly fresh, has resulted in more worthwhile, though often predictable, books than one can find on vast fields of experimental music not deemed worthy of inclusion. A similar dynamic exists with the innumerable books we have on the technology of recording— yet how many thorough examinations exist of the massive, but inviting, oeuvres of the major Academic Electroacoustic composers? Official releases of the complete works of Bernard Parmegiani and Luc Ferrari have appeared in recent years, but scholarly studies? Barely a whimper, or should I say, barely a sliver of electronic sound (at least in the Anglophone world). The best writing on music has tended to focus on popular genres (that is, song-centered forms or electronic dance music)... see: Richard Meltzer, Lester Bangs, Robert Palmer, Simon Reynolds, Greil Marcus, Peter Guralnick, Jon Savage... an history continuing with recent publications such as Mark Simpson's Saint Morrissey [2003], Peter Shapiro's Turn the Beat Around: The Secret History of Disco [2005], and Michael Veal's Dub: Soundscapes and Shattered Songs in Jamaican Reggae [2007]. Even still, wading further into the mainstream, the number of popular-music studies is dwarfed by the vast number of books on European Classical music; visit the music section of your nearest university library for confirmation. Innovative work in this field, such as that of Leigh Landy or Christopher Small, is limited in its import by its empirical basis upon confined academic realms.

However often its acolytes bemoan the low sales figures of Classical music, they cannot deny that vast numbers of individuals who live in Euro-centric nations—and never, or rarely, listen to Classical music—still assume its superiority. The notion that other musics deserve the same level of critical inquiry, rigorous study, and heightened appreciation is held by most to be laughable, if not contemptible. A recent book of note on Modernist/ post-Modernist Classical music, Alex Ross's The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century [2007], received high accolades for its New Yorker-approved accessibility and its supposed breadth of coverage. Indeed, it is at times an entertaining, even charming, read about the lives and work of several significant composers. But, on broader conceptual grounds, I must dissent. The clever phrasing of the book's title not only shows off the effluent prose to be found inside, but also hints at an extreme reactionary position on the author's part. Since Ross gives scant explanation for the cute title, we must ask: is the rest merely noise? Does the "rest" include Cecil Taylor and Anthony Braxton, who are both shamelessly dispensed with in the same short sentence? The sub-title doesn't even try to justify the book's closed-minded perspective by way of the "classical" tag. Fitting, as the New Yorker, like the New York Times, still sees Classical music as the only music worthy of commentary that escapes journalism's workaday "infotainment" strictures, the rest usually covered in its most-generic forms, conjuring an image of the ubiquitous anti-intellectual of present-day yuppiedom holding "pop" garbage away from the body by fingertip in one hand, the other hand sheltering his nose, pretending to like it as he hurries across time and space to the recycling bin of forgotten history, where the masses are customarily trashed. Ross implicitly demands that the reader ponder why all that popular and experimental and Jazz music ever came to be anyway. Presumably, for mating rituals—we do need the cannon fodder. Or just to keep the commoners happy, especially as they began to receive college educations, learning the names and movements to refer to slyly at dinner parties and art-show openings. Surely, the higher-ups never needed all that "noise." Certainly, those of low birth should never have even dreamed of creating an art music, a classical music—a music, with no adjectives attached—all by themselves.

In this sociocultural milieu of unfathomable conservatism, Lewis's book throws down quite a gauntlet. His official history of the A.A.C.M not only provocatively addresses these concerns, but on a broader level is as welcome as any music-appreciation treat one could possibly imagine. Of course, the book's "official" status will make any dud still beholden to "social science" nostrums argue that by definition it is not an ideal "objective," or "neutral," history. Lewis does not hesitate to say that the book was written most of all for his fellow Association members. And problems do arise because of Lewis's inability to examine his own opinions with enough critical distance. These concerns barely distract, though, from the overwhelming salience of this book. The esteemed trombonist-composer was an apt choice to write the organization's history. While Anthony Braxton, arguably the most prominent veteran of the Association, is well known for his academic proclivities (or mocked because of them) Lewis has pursued an academic career more on the university's terms, not just as a working musician compelled to teach principally to support and enhance his career, as Braxton was (initially, at Mills College; since 1990, at Wesleyan University, the indefatigable Braxton has managed to be both teacher and artist, the tasks and resources of the former utilized to aid the goals of the latter). Wadada Leo Smith, another leading A.A.C.M artist, like Braxton ventured forth in the 1970's with his own historical and philosophical musings (comparable in modern music perhaps to the extensive writings done by certain Academic Electroacoustic composers: Pierre Schaeffer, Iannis Xenakis, Trevor Wishart) and was actually the first of these three to try on the role of university professor, though he would not pursue a career as such until later. Not as prolific as a leader or composer as either Braxton or Smith, Lewis has achieved more of an even balance between identities as an academic and as an artist. Indeed, Lewis has covered a lot of ground, encompassing his membership in Braxton's astounding quartet of the late 1970's (with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul), extensive woodshedding as both a sideman and in collective improvisations, notated works utilizing the distinctive instrumentalisms of his A.A.C.M peers, and interactive experiments with computer music programs (of which he is a major innovator) not to mention his academic obligations. With A Power Stronger Than Itself, this second-wave Association member finds himself in the awkward position of telling the stories of his forebearers; he manages the task nicely, carefully placing biographical narratives throughout the book.

As the Wilmer, Litweiler, Szwed, and Watson books noted above suggest, the unique place Jazz has held since the rise of Bebop has lead to extensive historical, and critical, inquiry, as such indirectly questioning the classical-popular divide nearly as much as the music itself directly blows it apart. Even if the literary side of things featured white writers looking/ listening in on (usually) black musicians, the entire Jazz experience of the 1940's and '50's, alongside the Academic Electroacoustic music that emerged in France and Germany not long after Bebop, laid the groundwork for the paths later taken by Fluxus, Minimalism, Rock, and more-recent manifestations of non-academic music as art above all else, or at least as art first, commerce second [Taken together, and to be precise and comical at once, this non-academic art-music world includes, in my phrasings, Free/ modern Jazz; Improvised music, including off-shoots like Improvised Electroacoustic; Academic Electroacoustic and - of increasing importance in the computer age - electroacoustic composers who largely remain outside academia or other governmental institutions; Minimal and what remains of the Cageian-Fluxus artists; Industrial, "Post-Rock," Noise Rock, and other manifestations of anti-/ post-Rock ideas within the broader Indie/ Rock world; the remnants of Industrial and Noise, now more likely to rank among the non-academic electroacoustic artists; and the home-listening fringe of House, Techno, and their countless variants]. In other words, as limiting as Jazz discourses have been for artists like those of the A.A.C.M, the sheer volume of the literature, and the multifarious out-growths of what has been thought of historically as a "popular music," has over the long term diminished the cultural significance of the institutions, embodied by the likes of Alex Ross, that have denied Jazz artists their support. We are left pondering if the desire of some Association members for recognition from the arbiters of a reactionary society grew too obsessive, distracting them from the kind of alternative forums their organization epitomized.

Iain Anderson's This Is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture [2007], another essential book, allows us to reach the same conclusion indirectly. He discloses the numerous ways Jazz artists and their varied (at times unlikely) patrons in the post-Bebop era strived to portray Jazz as an "art music," or as "America's Classical music," and how Free/ modern Jazz artists, logically addressing the implications of such a cultural maneuver, turned to academia for the support they failed to attain in the marketplace. However, not all, not even a majority, if such quantification is even possible, took the academic route; instead continued to engage with the general public, to explore ways of successfully making, promoting, and conceptualizing new creative music. As such, Free/ modern Jazz, as well as the European Improvised music that first arose in response to its U.S counterpart and then went off on its own course, became a crucial part of the ever-expanding world of experimental music. The extensive critical engagement with Jazz exemplified by the writers noted above, and by older classics like Leroi Jones's Blues People: Negro Music in White America [1963] and A.B Spellman's Four Lives in the Bebop Business [1966] and by journalists like Nat Hentoff, Bill Smith, Scott Yanow, and Graham Lock, made the closed-off world of European Classical music seem remarkably staid, if not dormant, by comparison. The extensive literature on Fluxus, Minimalism, Rock, and now "Sound Art" has similarly let readers know where exactly the action is with regard to contemporary music [even as much of the scholarship on Fluxus and Minimalism does not discuss the music artists crucial to those movements].

In contrast, Academic Electroacoustic began and flourished at studios nearly always owned by the state or universities, spreading from France and Germany to locales in the U.S, the Netherlands, Italy, Poland, Belgium, Japan, Czechoslovakia, Britain, and elsewhere, but restricted in its expansion and popularization by financial and logistical concerns, which the development of the portable synthesizer only partially alleviated. The minor position held by contemporary followers of the Academic Electroacoustic tradition, relative to those of the Jazz and Improvised realms, suggests that Jazz artists were justly wary of taking the academic route. Or even if they weren't, they would never considering confining most of their artistic pursuits to an academic setting. Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Henry in the 1990's found themselves in the curious position of being hailed as visionary precursors to the vast range of artists in the House-Techno tradition, based largely on their status as pioneers, hardly as direct influences on the younger artists in question. That is, the tools of production (electronics) served as the protagonists; the individuals were denied personal agency, electronic music fated to go from primitive experimentation to futuristic soundtracks for social melioration.

Conceiving of the wide-reaching musical realm initiated by Bebop, Academic Electroacoustic, and Rock as I do here, as a singular historical entity, a potential conclusion is that it has long since ceased to be an avant garde, at least in the standard Modernist understanding of new radical movements persistently arising only to be incorporated into predominant practices and institutions. The "experimental" brand that Lewis prefers does seem appropriate, though the term has justly been rejected over the years by divers artists, as it exudes a condescending air toward those it defines. [Edgard Varèse, who figures significantly in Lewis's account because of his collaboration with Charlie Parker that never happened due to the latter's death, offered a strong, often-cited critique of the phrase, noting that there was nothing "experimental" about a completed composition]. The music artists that constitute this avant-garde-no-longer by the late 1990's found themselves in a stagnant position. Many of said artists still deal in narratives of opposition to supposed norms, but find that the defenders of these norms care less and less about any potential alternatives, especially as these challenges increasingly take place via internet, with other public spaces starved of non-commercial interactions. Ross's book puts this reactionary-ism on display quite well, most of all in refusing to acknowledge the reactionary nature of his perspective. So, in short, we do not have an avant garde provocatively challenging the status quo. Instead, we have an endless amorphous experimental music: artists parlaying the same deconstructions of what is supposedly expected or standard into the semblance of a purpose or career.

Is the A.A.C.M anything other than one part—a crucial part—of this larger realm of experimental music? At first glance, the reader may think that Lewis had the simple goal of defending the A.A.C.M's claim to be experimental music, and addressing the forces working against this cultural positioning. Unfortunately, Lewis's dismissive descriptions of "world of Jazz" discourses could convince wary Jazz-inclined readers that the once, and former, avant garde isn't worth their time and go on their merry Wynton Marsalis-sanctioned way. Lewis's emphasis on the radicalism of A.A.C.M music, its challenges to cultural orthodoxy, discounts the surprising conservatism of Association members and the art they have produced. Again, though we discount this conservatism when it comes to Association artists desiring "Classical" validation, what is more surprising is that, by allowing for a certain degree of conservatism with regard to the Jazz tradition, Association artists avoided the stasis that eventually plagued much of experimental music.


George Lewis

Jazz and the A.A.C.M
Anthony Braxton has spoken in interviews, and written about, the cycles of restructuralism, stylism, and traditionalism that have impelled Jazz through the trajectory (from Buddy Bolden to Ornette Coleman) that has long been an accepted understanding of its history. He and his early-A.A.C.M peers, in his own estimation, are restructuralists, though we would need finer shades of gradation, or even an adjustment to this model, leaving only stylism and restructuralism, to account for the effect of the A.A.C.M within Jazz music. Building upon and transcending the radical moves of the Free Jazz artists—Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Sun Ra, Albert Ayler, Paul Bley, Bill Dixon, Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Archie Shepp, to start—they have persistently engaged with the Jazz tradition even as they have not confined themselves to it. Indeed, the artists of the A.A.C.M—besides Braxton, Lewis and Smith, the notables are Muhal Richard Abrams, The Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, Famoudou Don Moye) Leroy Jenkins, Air (Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins, Steve McCall) Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Fred Anderson, Douglas Ewart, Wallace McMillan, Amina Claudine Myers, Edward Wilkerson, John Stubblefield, Ernest Dawkins, and Kahil El'Zabar—brought the Bebop revolution to its logical culmination: Jazz as "art" music, a forum for the original compositions of its participants, who stand unafraid of rejection by audiences accustomed to commercial norms or critics eager to accuse them of Romanticist or Modernist pretensions. In other words, Jazz as we knew it (and, sadly, still know it) ceased to exist in the A.A.C.M's world. The rest of the worlds be damned. No matter how often, and persistently, journalists and academics attempt to cordon them off into the Jazz or Improvised categories, the A.A.C.M artists have stubbornly righteously resisted.

They did not do so by pointedly excluding any tropes or methods associated with the Jazz genre. Instead, they included Jazz—not just Free Jazz, but relatively-traditionalist approaches as well—as part of their larger, experimental body of work. But this trait does not make the A.A.C.M "Post-Modernist," as if they merely threw widely-contrasting genres together. No... A.A.C.M artists refused to accept, as norms of compositional method, any standard forms found in either Jazz or European Classical music; they still began from a radical beginning point. The composer of an atonal notated work with no semblance of a regular rhythmic pattern has certainly done something different from a composer whose work features musicians using the chord changes of the "head" as the basis for improvisations, plus the recognizable Jazz "swing" beat with "walking" bass line. I would not say, though, that he has been more creative or original simply because he composed the work "out of the blue," while the harmonic system and regular rhythms the second composer chose existed beforehand. So long as that second composer understands that he had other options available, and purposely chose not to take those routes, he still possessed a radical perspective. The composers who never considered the other options are the ones who restricted their own creativity, and might eventually take the forced eclecticism of self-proclaimed "Post-Modernism."

To see this approach in action, turn to Roscoe Mitchell's 3 X 4 Eye [recorded in 1981], a fine record from a period of Mitchell's career often ignored in favor of his work with the Art Ensemble. While Braxton's massive oeuvre shows off his own vast range and reminds us of the genuinely-eclectic work of his fellow Association members, arguably Mitchell's music best captures the essence of the A.A.C.M experience. As recognizable as Braxton's or Threadgill's saxophone styles are, Mitchell offers something else entirely. The shrill or bombastic intensity of, say, Peter Brötzmann or Kaoru Abe, is often commented upon, but Mitchell arguably stands as the greatest purveyor of saxophone dissonance. His tone is nearly as metallic as the instrument itself, whether taking the form of pointillist squeaks and honks voiced with unexpected delicacy; or relentless lines, barreling forward in all directions at once, both the instrument and presumably the instrumentalist himself convulsing in sound. The first track on the album, "Cut Outs for Quintet," offers a prototypical Mitchell—and, thus, A.A.C.M—notated (or at least partially-notated) work, and as such manifests the point Lewis makes several times regarding the clear difference between the inter-genre work of A.A.C.M artists and the Jazz-Classical fusion propagated by Gunther Schuller known as "Third Stream" ("collagist rather than interpenetrative," as Lewis puts it not-so clearly). It lacks recognizable "jazz" tropes, even those of Free Jazz. The drums, double bass, and electric guitar do not offer any regular rhythmic backing, nor do they move quickly (or ecstatically, as some would say) from one gesture or technique to another; meanwhile, the saxophone and trumpet do not take a "solo" where their particular line of musical thought is front and center. At the same time, Mitchell does not aim to imitate Modernist Classical masters; something new is afoot: as with Mitchell's "L-R-G," named for its three performers (Leo Smith, Roscoe Mitchell, George Lewis) the piece is written with the musicians in mind, besides obviously using a Jazz-like small-band format. Nonetheless, to begin to grasp their overall form, "Cut Outs," "L-R-G," and similar pieces make the same kind of demands upon the listener's attention as Modernist Classical or Academic Electroacoustic music. The album's second track then might jolt some listeners upon first listen: "Jo Jar," a jovial tune with Dixieland and Caribbean accents, features a "head," a driving backbeat, "solos" by Mitchell and trumpeter Hugh Ragin, and brief "joyful noise" collective blow-outs. The surprise comes not just with the switch itself, but with how well Mitchell and co. pull it off. The track offers Jazz as played by musicians who understand the tradition both intuitively and as a cultural production requiring extraordinary discipline; and yet nevertheless are not obliged to play it traditionally, or play it at all, by anyone but themselves. In other words, despite this fine performance, which would certainly be accessible to a mainstream audience, few commercial or critical awards were afforded these artists because of their ability to perform such music. Indeed, the traditionalists of the 1980's made the belabored manner in which they seemed to respond to the demands of the past a major selling point of their music and their personas. After all, one's not likely to have much fun concocting elaborate imitations of the second Miles Davis Quintet.

Still, most of the public attention and financial patronage A.A.C.M artists have received initially come via "jazz" channels, mostly in the 1970's before the reactionary "Classicist" turn. Moreover, Lewis's emphasis on the experimental realm not merely responds to common failures to understand the Jazz avant garde's (and the A.A.C.M's) crucial role in experimental music, but also suggests an interpretation of the entirety of Jazz as experimental music. Still, except in the somewhat-frequent attention directed toward Braxton's always-frequent work (of all Association members, he is the most prolific and challenging, an extraordinary feat given the competition) A.A.C.M artists have rarely received the due they deserve within experimental-music circles, or even in academia—especially in the case of retrospective accounts of the 1960's and '70's. As for other artists who arose from "jazz"-identified milieus, the situation is even worse. A Power Stronger Than Itself redresses that imbalance. It does not aim to do so merely by lauding the Association's achievements or responding to those who have ignored or misunderstood its work. Rather, Lewis eagerly lumps his book into other recent studies that, in his eyes, effectively redirect the reader's perspective away from the classical-popular binary. As Lewis puts it, "a new generation of writers on improvised music who were, first, declining to conflate oversimplification with accessibility; second, asserting common cause with intellectuals in other fields concerning the ways music could announce social and cultural change; and finally, seeking liberation from the Sisyphean repetition of ersatz populist prolegomena that seemed endemic to the field." He points to Ajay Heble and Eric Porter as key examples. However deferential he is to his fellow Association members, Lewis uses their life stories and their music work as vantage points from which to delve into an impressive array of issues. The implications of Lewis's conclusions about the controversies and debates he broaches could spawn numerous future responses. Here we offer only a few.


Anthony Braxton

The A.A.C.M's Place in Modern Music (Jazz and Otherwise)
First, Lewis's book, and the entirety of the A.A.C.M experience, repeatedly forces us to dwell upon the image that comes to mind when we think of an experimental, or avant-garde, musician. The problem being: that image is of a white man. Sometimes a white woman (or a Japanese man or woman). But less likely, a black man or black woman. We do not think of Jazz artists as experimentalists, nor do we give appropriate due to those black artists—American, European, or African—who work beyond the purview of any conception, however open-ended, of what constitutes Jazz or any "black" popular music like Soul, Funk, Jùjú, Reggae, or Hip Hop. A challenge to this orthodoxy coming from privileged members of the African American minority would have been noteworthy enough. But Lewis also stresses, in the Preface, the origins of the A.A.C.M among working-class African Americans in a city, Chicago, where they found themselves subject to severe discrimination. He then compares the collectivism (or, rather, the "individualism within an egalitarian frame") of the A.A.C.M to Jazz music broadly as well as attempts at social order and institution building within slave communities; and later, in his introduction, links his book to the important place held by autobiographies and oral histories in African American literature. The point is clear: A.A.C.M artists did not in and of themselves make a massive contribution to, and redefine the very nature, of experimental/ modern music. Rather, they did so as a culmination of Jazz music's own fundamental and dynamic effect on Twentieth-Century music, as a vital contribution to global culture made (more often than not) by the African American community.

This first race-centric issue also comes to light when we consider John Zorn (greatly influenced by Braxton and the Art Ensemble) whose name has become synonymous with eclecticism and "Post-Modernism" in music, and who, as such, has been misunderstood or criticized on the same grounds that the A.A.C.M artists have. But Zorn, of course, is white—Jewish, yes, but in the U.S imperium at least (if not those of the European past) Jewish is white. And, as Lewis (correctly) argues, "many artists in the world of white American experimentalism [... are] able to describe themselves without opposition as 'former' jazz musicians"—that is, whites "have historically been free to migrate conceptually and artistically without suffering charges of rejecting their culture and history." Indeed, in the book's Afterword, when he turns his attention toward what he calls "Downtown II" (that is, the 1980's "Downtown" scene of whom Zorn is the most-recognized, in contrast to the earlier "Downtown I" of various composers largely associated with John Cage, Fluxus, and Minimalism) Lewis notes that "Downtown II's press coding as white [...] was not only at variance with [its] image of transcendence, but seemed to have little basis in either New York City's geography or musical affinities." Another relevant point in this regard: the phrase, "creative music," adopted by the Association as an alternative to "jazz," nonetheless was treated by journalists and listeners as interchangeable with Free Jazz. Readers of the Wire magazine, which in varied respects bears the brunt of Lewis's sharp rebukes, will surely recall their adoption of the phrase, "Fire Music," originally the name of an Archie Shepp album. In that case, critics who already ignored the A.A.C.M's notion of a Jazz avant-garde that had traversed beyond the boundaries of Jazz itself have shot back with an alternate, non-"jazz" term that, a priori, has no meaning outside its circumscribed conceptualization of a particular scene within Free/ modern Jazz.

Many of Lewis's arguments pivot around these claims that musicians like those of the A.A.C.M have abandoned their musical pedigree, their duty to embody African American experiences and cultural traits, a critique which masks its insidious racism with fraudulent accolades for "black" music. On one hand, Lewis argues that Jazz was a "modernist high art based in black culture." We see here Lewis's conservatism quite clearly; maintaining the very notion of "high" art, he justly wants to elevate Jazz to a position parallel to that of European Classical music, but only insofar as a high-low, or art-folk, binary unfortunately remains at work. He quotes Charlie Parker asserting that Bebop emerged directly out of the work of Jazz predecessors, not by imitating or incorporating that of European Classical masters. As often as Parker quoted Classical composition, as much as he wanted to work with Varèse, he still did not pay the "entrance fee" whereby a popular form, like Jazz, would be seen as having definitively left its origins behind and announced itself ready to be judged against Classical standards. In other words, Lewis suggests that A.A.C.M artists have not abandoned their racial heritage, but instead are following the paths laid by their heroes. No surprise then that Lewis finds fault with the later writings of Leroi Jones (after he had changed his name to Amiri Baraka) when the famous poet-playwright began to echo the concerns of Marsalis and the "Classicists," arguing that Jazz had lost its mass audience since the 1950's and therefore no longer stood as the essential musical contribution of the "blues people." Baraka had already tagged A.A.C.M artists as part of the "Tail Europe" school, asserting that they merely sought to impress the denizens of European Modernism by slavishly imitating the likes of Cage and Stockhausen. This "ongoing effort to chain the ideas of black musicians to the demands of vox populi," as Lewis puts it, again is countered by the origin of many post-Bebop Jazz artists in lower-class communities. Lest anyone think that white critics bear the brunt of Lewis's criticisms, he has Baraka in mind when he unleashes one of the best lines of the entire book: "Far from articulating resistance or class struggle, those who import the bourgeois-versus-vernacular binary dialectic unblinkingly into the complex world of black musical expression run the risk of inadvertently serving as the ventriloquist's dummy for corporate megamedia." Moreover, the reader is also indirectly reminded of how easy it is to exaggerate the popular appeal of Jazz music in the 1950's. Baraka, Marsalis, et al., have been pedaling a delusion, ignoring basic history: during the Big Band/ Swing era, Jazz definitely was the popular music of choice in the U S A, but it lost this status by the end of the 1940's, a development that surely relates to the rise of Bebop, but reflects many other changes in what was, after all, a decade of massive upheaval throughout most of the world.

The race issue takes us to Chapters 4 and 5 of the book, the portion that will prove to be of highest value to later historians, for it incorporates extensive excerpts from the tape recordings Abrams (the first President and continued unofficial leader of the Association) made of the early meetings of what became the A.A.C.M. These excerpts let us know, first of all, that interracial relations reared their awkward head from the beginning. Bob Dogan, a pianist on the list of musicians who were invited to the Association's first general meeting on 8 May 1965 also happened to be white. Though Lewis asserts that founding members Richard Abrams, Phil Cohran, Jodie Christian, and Steve McCall "sent postcards to the cream of Chicago's African American musicians" announcing the meeting, the author apparently was not concerned to find out who had included a white man among the initial potential members. Was it a mistake, or an intentional move based upon Dogan's established position among Chicago's South Side and black musicians? Or, even more intriguing, a sly dissent by one of the four founders against the increasingly-obvious fact that the Association would not take an interracial approach? One thing we know, if such was the case: Abrams was not the voice of dissent, as he took the lead at the Association's third meeting, on 29 May 1965 [at the second meeting, on 15 May, the organization's name was adopted], in advocating that the group limit itself to black members. Dogan objected, suggesting that other white musicians had expressed interest in the new organization; other than Cohran proposing that the issue be put aside until the next meeting, Lewis only quotes Abrams, who apparently pushed Cohran's hesitation and Dogan's opposition aside. The reader is left to wonder what others at the meeting contributed to the discussion.

That said, the prospect Dogan raised of other white members probably doomed any chance of the A.A.C.M not being a race-exclusive grouping. A tiny number of white members might not have led to any dictums on the subject; the possibility of several, though, caused justified fears. The Association's exclusion of white musicians was grounded, as Lewis explains, not just in the shifting politics of the time, with civil-rights groups like the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Congress of Racial Equality expelling white members, but specifically in the disappointing experience of the Jazz Composers Guild (J.C.G), founded in 1964 in New York. The J.C.G's white members, notably Paul Bley, Carla Bley, and Mike Mantler, received grants or performance opportunities on an individual basis, and the organization as a whole, because of the de facto leadership of Bill Dixon and Cecil Taylor, was ostracized as "black" and thus less likely to receive patronage. The dissenting voice would note that Archie Shepp's decision to sign with Impulse Records, based on the popularity he'd attained as a sideman and protege of John Coltrane, has been recognized as more of a blow to the J.C.G's continuation, especially its goal of the collective approving any work an individual member performed beyond its auspices. Shepp's opportunity, however, certainly does not disprove the existence at the time (and now) of what Lewis calls "a social system that routinely invests heavily in white privilege"; the rewards awaiting a white Jazz artist would contribute to tensions within interracial groups, and indeed such disparities had been a problem throughout Jazz history. The exclusion of whites apparently did not become official however, since in 1967 Emanuel Cranshaw was admitted as a member. Abrams accepted his membership in the face of increased opposition, arguing that Cranshaw, despite his genealogical heritage, had grown up "black"; born Gordon Emanuel, he had even taken the surname of his adopted brother, the popular (and African American) bassist Bob Cranshaw. To no avail, as pressures from within and without the organization eventually led to his expulsion. Here, Lewis gives a little more context for the decision, pointing out that many black-nationalist groups on Chicago's South Side looked askance at the white listeners in attendance at A.A.C.M concerts.

In the book's second chapter, "New Music, New York," the author establishes his view of the cultural milieu New York-based Jazz artists found themselves in at the onset of the 1960's, as intriguing and perplexing as it certainly seemed to the young future A.A.C.M members in Chicago. Most pertinent to this discussion, the chapter dwells at length upon the racial tensions among New York artists that helped break the connection between post-Bebop Jazz and the literary-visual arts vanguard that had been so strong in the 1950's. Even when Abstract Expressionist painters and Beat poets sang the praises of Bebop, they did so—Lewis claims—with the assumption that Jazz music took place somewhere else; the white "Jazz poets" may have collaborated with black musicians, but did not invite them to be "participants in any aesthetic or political discussions." LeRoi Jones and Ted Joans were exceptions, but still felt like outsiders. Their white counterparts in Greenwich Village lacked an understanding of the discrimination blacks faced, North and South, or awareness even of budding post-colonial movements in the art and politics of the Third World. Jones and other black artists were wary of the Euro-centric perspectives of their white compatriots, who were "overly invested in a kind of bourgeois individualism that black artists could not really afford to pursue." The growing Free Jazz revolution furthered the racial divide, as younger visual artists, such those of the "Pop Art" scene, evinced more interest in Rock music and had little affinity for either radical politics or expressionist/ Romanticist tendencies in art.

Preparing the reader for the eclecticism of the A.A.C.M, Lewis is quick to place Free Jazz within a larger widening of artistic pursuits among (ostensible) Jazz musicians taking place in the 1960's; he also couples it with the rise of a black "salon scene" in Harlem and the East Village, led by Jones's decision to move uptown. Despite his later reactionary turn, Jones more than anyone made the connection between the "New Thing" in Jazz and nascent Afro-centric perspective on art and society, especially with his essay "Jazz and the White Critic," published in 1963 by [the Chicago-based, fittingly] Down Beat magazine, and serving as his response to both the angry retorts Free Jazz often prompted from critics and, more broadly, the failure of white critics to grant Jazz the same level of respect as Classical music. Lewis opines that a "Fordism that had seemingly defined the directions for black musicians along rigidly commodified lines" led in response to "various freedoms [...] being asserted across a wide spectrum of musical possibilities"; in such an interpretation, artists not regularly associated with Free Jazz are included: Yusef Lateef, Andrew Hill, or Wayne Shorter, for example. The revolution in Lewis's account was marked by: an expanded array of instruments, and "extended" techniques; a "nonhierarchical approach to time" grounded in the work of Bebop pioneer Kenny Clarke; increased "rhythmic complexity of melodic lines"; "harmonic practices rang[ing] through quartal, serial, polytonal, pantonal, microtonal, and atonal techniques, eschewing the late Romantic notions of teleological tonality that bebop practice had revised"; "structural integrity on a larger scale," with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus especially noteworthy in this regard; and a preference not to cover Jazz standards.

Thusly we come to a second major revelation of the excerpts from Abrams's recordings. The Association's focus on the "original" compositions of its members pointedly put it at odds with Jazz, and popular-music, norms and created a healthy amount of discord among the earliest members. Objections raised by bassist Melvin Jackson at the May 8 meeting led Abrams to clarify that those who do not want to write their own compositions still had a place in the organization because of the necessity of musicians other than the composer to enact said composer's work. Lewis points out that Abrams demurred from the "division of labor between 'composer' and 'performer' that characterized Western classical music," instead aiming to eliminate the composition-improvisation duality. He quotes Abrams: "'You write music when you stand up and practice your instrument.'" It was agreed that concerts promoted by the Association would only feature original works by members. Furthermore, following the example of Ornette Coleman's legendary Town Hall concert of 1962, they would avoid nightclubs, promoting their own shows, renting performance spaces as need be.

By the end of 1965, a major step toward the maturation of the Association's aesthetic identity occurred as an outgrowth of the debate over "original music" when the experimental/ avant-garde preferences of certain members impelled a clear rejection of traditionalism. The issue came to a head at a meeting on 2 October 1965, several months after playing standards had been rejected. Those of a traditionalist bent objected to a complete emphasis upon new compositions. Of especial notice at this point is that Abrams asserts that A.A.C.M members are "not really Jazz musicians," an early indication of the Association's contradictory relationship to those worrisome "world of Jazz" ideologies. Abrams also put forth another crucial idea behind all sorts of experimentalist approaches to music: that the artists wanted to "awaken the psyche" of themselves first and foremost—to music play music they want to hear, not according to the demands of the buying public. Cohran, whose concern for a Jazz tradition he thought was being stolen and/ or abandoned had indirectly lent support to Association's racial exclusivity, now found that his desire to teach younger artists the particulars of African American musical history put him at odds with the majority. By the new year, 1966, he had left to pursue contrasting goals; a few others followed.

This rejection of playing standards did not entail a turn away from the learning how to play traditional Jazz. Under Abrams's guidance, the A.A.C.M School opened in the fall of 1967, with Abrams and a few other older Association members teaching their younger peers, who in turn taught young musicians, sometimes children, the basics of harmony and rhythm, differing methods of composition etc. As Lewis recounts, many Association members wanted to know how "play the changes," quite a contrast with the crude stereotypes of young artists of Jazz's avant garde, accused as they were of not knowing how to play "in" before they chose to play "out." A related topic comes earlier in the book, in chapter 3, "The Development of the Experiment Band" (that is, the loose collection led by Abrams which prefigured the A.A.C.M) when Lewis analyzes the influence of Joseph Schillinger on the young Abrams. An immigrant from Russia who worked with Leon Theremin and Henry Cowell, Schillinger worked out an elaborate, open-ended system of making music, published posthumously in 1946 as the Schillinger System of Musical Composition. Unlike other systems of "music theory," such as Serialism, the Schillinger system did not prescribe a set approach to harmony, and while it was highly mathematical it was not rigidly so, as it allowed for the spiritual effects of music, as such very appealing to Abrams, Braxton, and others in the A.A.C.M, for whom philosophical study occurred alongside musical explorations. Though Schillinger's notoriety was fading quickly by the 1960's, his system foreshadowed the work of Milton Babbitt and Iannis Xenakis, and yet also—as Lewis relates—inspired Charles Stepney, an arranger for Chess Records who introduced it to Abrams. In turn, the system encouraged Abrams to seek out ways of expanding the "ad hoc, informal education system of Jazz," helped by other Chicago musicians like Eddie Harris, Donald Rafael Garrett, and Walter Perkins. That is, Abrams, already an established player in the Chicago Bebop scene, not only knew the tradition, but wanted to expand it. Again, we see the A.A.C.M's simultaneous conservatism and radicalism. Mitchell, Threadgill, and Jarman began playing with Abrams in this period, as did a few other eventual Association members who made their mark early in the organization's history but sadly have not been heralded in the years since: Leonard Jones, Troy Robinson, and Gene Dinwiddie. Similarly, the Experimental Band's music is lost to time: they made few public appearances, and re-used the same tape when recording rehearsals.

While the A.A.C.M School and other logistical matters were dealt with, as far as the listening public was concerned the A.A.C.M story for several years became one and the same with that of The Art Ensemble of Chicago. The first A.A.C.M album, Roscoe Mitchell's Sound, recorded in August 1966 and released later the same year, featured future members of the Ensemble (Mitchell, Lester Bowie, and Malachi Favors) plus Lester Lashley on trombone and cello, Maurice McIntyre on tenor saxophone, and Alvin Fielder on drums. Drummer Philip Wilson would join Mitchell, Bowie, and Favors for recordings in 1967 that would not be released until 1975, as Old/ Quartet. The next Mitchell album, Congliptious, recorded and released in 1968, featured landmark early solo performances by Mitchell, Bowie, and Favors, plus a quartet track with Robert Crowder on drums. Meanwhile, Numbers 1 & 2, recorded in 1967 and released the same year under Bowie's name, featured the Mitchell-Bowie-Favors trio on one track, and a quartet with Joseph Jarman added on another, thus setting the stage for the Art Ensemble. Jarman had also recorded his debut album in 1966: Song For, released the next year, didn't just feature Jarman's regular quartet of the time (with Christopher Gaddy on piano, Charles Clark on bass, and Thurman Barker on drums) but also Fred Anderson and Bill Brimfield (who had their own group, and constituted a sort of Evanston contingent of the Association) and Steve McCall. Another Jarman album, As If It Were the Seasons [1968] as well as Abrams's debut, Levels and Degrees of Light [1967] and Maurice McIntyre's debut Humility in the Light of the Creator [1969], showcased similarly-diverse line-ups—moreover, several of the musicians delving far into multi-instrumentalism, soon to become a defining characteristic of the A.A.C.M.

The notes for the five-disc set, The Art Ensemble 1967/68, released by Nessa Records, give us a taste of those pivotal years between the Association's founding and the Art Ensemble's decision to go to Paris in the summer of 1969. Chuck Nessa, as a producer at Chicago's Delmark Records, had helped get many of these early albums recorded and published; upon leaving Delmark, he started his own label specifically focusing on Association artists. Besides the tracks that made up Old/ Quartet, Congliptious, and Numbers 1 & 2, the box set features some previously-unavailable recordings, the first a double trio: the Mitchell-Bowie-Favors grouping plus the Jarman quintet minus Gaddy. Indeed, within the next year both Gaddy and Charles Clark passed away from ill health despite their young ages. These tragedies, as Association members have often recalled, impelled the Chicagoans to leave their home city bitter and disappointed at the lack of opportunities there, but determined as ever to move forward. The financial difficulties that came with performing avant-garde Jazz in general had become too much; in the same period, Alvin Fielder returned to his native Mississippi, Philip Wilson turned to the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and Abrams began emphasizing the Association's education mission, recording a second album, Young at Heart, Wise in Time in 1969 that wasn't released until 1974 and then not returning to the public eye until 1972 (having not only taken the lead with regard to the Association's music school, Abrams had to return to a leadership position with so many members leaving Chicago; he was aided by new members like Lewis, Douglas Ewart, Wallace McMillan, Pete Cosey, and Frank Gordon). His quartet decimated, Jarman joined Mitchell, Bowie, and Favors in their trek abroad. During their stay in Paris, 1969-1971, the group (adding Famoudou Don Moye in 1970) recorded 15 albums (including Comme à la Radio, a collabroation with chanteuse Brigitte Fontaine and her regular co-composer Areski Belkacem) unleashing a consistently-excellent bulk of music in an unprecedented short period of time, and attracted a great deal of attention with theatrical live performances. (With their exploration of an expanded array of percussion instruments; costumes, masks, and dramatic skits; and compositions that obliquely denied the notation-improvisation binary, the Art Ensemble's work overlapped with that of Sun Ra and his Arkestra, a point Lewis addresses with considerable awkwardness in the final section of chapter 5. In chapter 3, he describes the important place Sun Ra held in the cultural life of 1950's Chicago.)


Henry Threadgill

Meanwhile, a trio of Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and Leroy Jenkins had recorded a debut album (published under Braxton's name) in 1968: 3 Compositions of New Jazz. After recording a follow-up album, Silence, in 1969, they too went to Paris (where they turned into a foursome with the addition of McCall, who'd left before the Art Ensemble, establishing many of the Association's Paris connections). The story goes that they received less acclaim than the Art Ensemble. While they too incorporated theatrical elements, they did so with less humor, less showmanship, and—most important—less Jazz. In chapter 7, "Americans in Paris," Lewis discounts this common narrative, pointing out that the trio enjoyed the same effusive reception from critics and chances at large audiences that the Art Ensemble had attained before them. Instead, the three had greater difficulty remaining united. The young Braxton, apparently quite competitive with his peers, took advantage of the opportunities made available by his perceived leadership of the group and his enthusiasm for his own ideas about composition and culture in general. Braxton has also acknowledged in interviews with Graham Lock in the latter's Forces in Motion: The Music and Thought of Anthony Braxton that his and Smith's compositional ideas frequently clashed. Though the trio left Paris for New York after less than a year, Braxton would return to Europe at least once a year through the remainder of the decade, ultimately doing just as much to establish the A.A.C.M in Europe as the Art Ensemble had.

While chapters 4 and 5 serve the historians, chapter 9, "The A.A.C.M in New York," gives Lewis the chance to discuss at length the broader problems he wants to address, and to problematize. It takes the reader to the late 1970's, as the "loft" Free Jazz scene blossomed and New York found itself newly home to an impressive array of music artists associated with not only the A.A.C.M, but also the Black Artists' Group (B.A.G) that had at the tail-end of the 1960's and the early '70's made Saint Louis a major center of interdisciplinary experimental art [included in this group were Julis Hemphill, Oliver Lake, Hamiet Bluiett, J D Parran, Charles Bobo Shaw, and Baikida Carroll] and the Los Angeles-based Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (U.G.M.A.A), led by Horace Tapscott, who nevertheless did not join some of his pupils (David Murray, Arthur Blythe, Lawrence Butch Morris) in their eastward migration. At this point in their histories, with Braxton, Mitchell, Air, Abrams, Lewis and Smith regularly releasing albums, the A.A.C.M reached their highest level of acclaim, challenging basic conceptions of music held by critics and artists alike in the epicenter of the Jazz business: despite its demographic and economic decline, New York at that time was the center of global cultural movements in a way no city could ever dream of becoming in the current geopolitical situation.

A few noteworthy aspects of the narrative suffice to frame the A.A.C.M's brief flirtation with both commercial success and polite-society recognition. New York journalists Gary Giddins of the Village Voice and Robert Palmer of the New York Times began to take note of the infusion of Jazz artists into the experimental downtown scene, most of all at the performance venue the Kitchen, which during this time had Garrett List, Rhys Chatham, and Lewis, among others, serving two-year stints as curators. European festivals, especially the Moers New Jazz Festival, offered A.A.C.M artists new opportunities both financially and creatively. Because of their growing commercial and critical success relative to native New Yorkers, A.A.C.M artists sometimes drew the ire of those who expected young arrivals to "pay their dues": rise to prominence gradually with all due respect to one's elders, like past Jazz artists had supposedly done. Furthermore, as A.A.C.M artists began finally to realize long-form notational works, far removed from the Jazz idiom, some of which they had been planning or imagining for years, they also began to hear complaints from the New York critics (and the Chicago ones at Down Beat) who had been their strongest defenders. To quote Lewis, "critical reception [...] became quite often frankly dismissive of the extensive engagement with extended notated form, electronics and computers, graphic scores[,] and traditionally notated works (with or without improvisation) realized by A.A.C.M musicians and others." Association members and other Jazz artists did begin receiving support from the National Endowment of the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts, as well as private foundations, though always in smaller sums than those awarded to white artists with a Classical/ academic background. Finally, the Jazz press and mainstream media caught wind of the "loft Jazz" scene, and as with previous potential for cross-over acclaim, the artists instead found they had in effect been ghettoized (even as those who lived and performed in the lofts were unwitting participants in the gentrification that would uproot them). Lewis explains: "by framing their music as requiring minimal infrastructural investment, ["loft Jazz"] was used to disconnect [the artists] from more lucrative economic possibilities." That is, though they were often closer in how they were run and in the music they presented to the gallery spaces that populated the Cageian-Fluxus-Minimalist "Downtown I" scene, lofts came to be seen as just the newest, hip version of the Jazz nightclub. [On a related note, chapter 7 of Benjamin Looker's history of the B.A.G ("Point From Which Creation Begins": The Black Artists' Group of St. Louis) entitled "Going Out Live: B.A.G and the New York Loft Scene," offers an excellent account of this twilight time of the Free Jazz era, still poorly documented.]

Nonetheless, the opportunities present in New York made Chicago seem like a backwater. In the early 1970's, only a small number of Association members came to New York (notably, Braxton and Leroy Jenkins, the latter forming The Revolutionary Ensemble with bassist Sirone and drummer Jerome Cooper). In the latter half of the decade, "members of the A.A.C.M's second wave, along with the Chicago-based remnants of the first wave—including, most importantly, founder Muhal Richard Abrams—moved to New York, seemingly en masse." Lewis himself was one of the migrants, as were Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, Fred Hopkins, Henry Threadgill, and Lester Bowie. Major labels took interest. The Art Ensemble, as with the A.A.C.M's European ventures, first charted the course here, releasing two albums on Atlantic Records after their return to the United States in 1972; but again, Braxton ultimately shone brightest, signing with Arista Records, helping pave the way for both Abrams and Air to link up with Novus Records, an Arista subsidiary. Their stints were short-lived compared to Braxton's, which itself ended in confusion and disappointment. Still, Braxton's Arista recordings, stretching from 1974 to 1981 and recently collected in a box set by Mosaic Records, besides the 1969-1971 Art Ensemble recordings and the string of studio albums Air were able to release on several labels [Air Song [1975], Air Raid [1976], Air Time [1977], Open Air Suit [1978], Air Lore [1979], Air Mail [1980] and 80 ° Below '82 [1982]), show the A.A.C.M at an extended artistic, and commercial, peak.

The quartet recordings Arista published (namely, New York, Fall 1974 [which also featured a duo with electronics musician Richard Teitelbaum as well a saxophone-quartet piece with B.A.G artists Hemphill, Lake, and Bluiett, leading eventually to their World Saxophone Quartet with David Murray], Five Pieces 1975, and The Montreux/ Berlin Concerts [which featured both versions of the quartet, plus one track with Braxton and Lewis alongside the Berlin New Music Group]) might still draw the most attention, but they were only the beginning, literally and conceptually, of Braxton's output on the label, barely hinting at the larger implications of his, and the A.A.C.M's, revolutionary music (nevermind that, in its original formation, with trumpeter Kenny Wheeler instead of Lewis, Braxton was the only Association member in the quartet). Even with Lewis in Wheeler's place, the quartet can find itself assimilated into the Free Jazz genre. Two of the most-popular of his Arista albums, Creative Orchestra Music 1976 and Duets 1976 With Muhal Richard Abrams, as well as a double-L.P of solo performances [Alto Saxophone Improvisations] offered their proverbial listeners enough challenges already. But Braxton also let loose a trio of albums that bemused some, annoyed many: For Trio, For Four Orchestras, and For Two Pianos. While the four-orchestra triple L.P turned out to be somewhat of a disaster (Lewis disagrees), as it didn't even feature a complete performance of the composition in question and Braxton admits the musicians did not get a chance to rehearse appropriately, the other two were clear triumphs. For Trio featured two different trios [Braxton-Mitchell-Jarman and Braxton-Threadgill-Ewart] performing the same composition, and arguably provides the exemplary A.A.C. M multi-instrumentalist performances. For Two Pianos features Ursula Oppens and Frederic Rzewski performing a single composition over the entire course of the L.P, as such a brilliant coming-together of the "Downtown I" scene and the A.A.C.M. As Lewis recounts, Braxton hoped the quartet releases would appease Arista enough for the label not to object to these experimental albums being slipped "under the rug." If so, an understandable defeatist strategy, suggesting that Braxton at least possessed no delusions about his ability to change the society's conception of the black musician.

Indeed, despite Arista's sponsorship, and despite the Art Ensemble re-emerging in 1978 after a few years on hiatus, support for A.A.C.M artists from the mainstream faded faster than it had arrived. Without smaller European labels like Hat Hut and Black Saint, their music would have disappeared from record shops. These changing fortunes presumably struck at Lewis quite pointedly; as he relates by way of several charming anecdotes, this leading second-wave member had come of age in an ideal environment: learning from Abrams when they were both still in Chicago; while also traveling to New Haven to partake in Jazz's brief academic sojourn at Yale University under the banner of Willie Ruff's Duke Ellington Fellowship Program, launched in 1972 when legends like Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach met and played with young artists like Lewis, Anthony Davis, Dwight Andrews, and Alvin Singleton (also, Smith and a host of other Jazz-oriented musicians were living in New Haven at the time, including Gerry Hemingway, Pheeroan AkLaff, and Mark Dresser); then hooking up with Braxton just as it seemed the latter was going to achieve a status attained only a few experimentalists—say, Cage, Stockhausen, Philip Glass—wherein, no matter how rarely their music is actually listened to closely, they definitely have a "household name"-recognition in elite urban culture. Alas, something went wrong: neither a racist culture that would instead grant John Zorn the position Braxton perhaps could have gotten, since Zorn's popularity was based not just in "Downtown II" being "coded white" but also in his extensive, non-condescending interaction with Rock music; nor a mere result of the Marsalis crowd disparaging experimentalists. Rather, several obstacles come to the forefront; and given his deep personal interest, we're not surprised to see Lewis delve into these issues with such acumen and rigor.

Taking us back to the race issue, much of the negative criticisms of A.A.C.M artists at the time revolved around the question of whether their music was Jazz or not, as if a verdict in such matter would settle the critic's confusion. Lewis provides plenty of evidence of the crass ridicule spewed by critics eager to reject any perversions of Jazz by academic and "high art" ideas, reminding us of the implied threats many musicians faced of having their careers ruined if they continued performing "anti-Jazz." Besides descriptions of some of the long-form works A.A.C.M composers were first performing/ recording in the latter half of the 1970's (such as Mitchell's The Maze, included on an album with the aforementioned L-R-G, or Abrams's Lifea Blinec, pronounced "Lifeline A.B.C") Lewis's best response to many of these rebukes that now seem quite embarrassing to those who wrote them can only come via some ridicule of his own: "In the final analysis, those who thought that Anthony Braxton sounded like Karlheinz Stockhausen or Anton Webern could not be said to have truly heard much of either." That said, Lewis also returns to his qualms about a great deal of contemporary academic work on African American music, most of all its failure to redefine the idea of the vernacular, even as urbanization has, at least since the 1940's, rendered our commonplace notions of Folk music null and void—not just in the West, but across a surprisingly-wide expanse of global culture. "What is needed," Lewis writes, "is a local and contingent articulation of the vernacular, one that responds to particular persons, histories, and social conditions, rather than a universalizing and essentializing conception that is permanently identified with whatever the black popular music of the moment might be." Presumably the extraordinary worldwide impact of African American popular music accounts for these limited expectations of African American music more generally; thus, a positive reason. That said, Lewis makes one of those rare revealing points that perhaps is too obvious, and yet because of its veracity is troubling in its implications for our intellectual climate: "A conception of black cultural history that is forced to deny engagement with or influence from pan-European traditions would look absurd if it were applied to black writers or visual artists."

"Bimusicality" emerges as a crucial concept here because of the inevitable binary between the Jazz and European Classical traditions. The term, in Lewis's rendering, refers to black musicians who mastered both the Jazz and Classical idioms, indeed whose experience as Jazz musicians made them uniquely adept at composing and interpreting contemporary notational music. A.A.C.M and other musicians of the same generation, especially Anthony Davis, stand out as exemplary "bimusical" artists. A few other terms highlighted here—creolization, hybridity, polyphony, heterogeneity—succinctly capture Lewis's portrait of leading Association members like himself, Abrams, Braxton, Jenkins, Mitchell, Smith, and Threadgill. Having established "the dominant focus of the A.A.C.M as strongly composer-centered," Lewis posits that "the unitary focus [...] on the role of improvisor, a trope that has become standard in the historiography and criticism of black American music, cannot account for the diversity of black musical subjectivity exemplified by the A.A.C.M." It also does not account for the long history of African American composers of European Classical music, who Lewis refers to often throughout the book—especially William Grant Still and James Reese Europe. He adds, "The ongoing binary opposition between composition and improvisation [...] lacked any real force among A.A.C.M composers, who were often drawn to collage and interpenetration strategies that blended, opposed, or ironically juxtaposed the two disciplines." Duke Ellington, alongside Ornette Coleman, served as a lodestar of sorts for Association members. Lewis explains: "Ellington's image of himself as a composer working with and through African American forms was constantly challenged, stigmatized, and stereotyped." Lewis only hints at the larger implications of eliminating the composition-improvisation binary when he goes on to say, "as with Ellington, as well as later white American experimentalism, the definition of 'composition' could be a fluid one [...] employing compositional methods that did not necessarily privilege either conventionally[-]notated scores, or the single, heroic creator figure so beloved by Jazz historiography." Such methods have been used throughout the history of Jazz, and arguably have become the predominant form of music, perhaps even bringing the aural arts back on course after a period of, at most, two centuries wherein European Classical become strictly notational, and increasingly limited the leeway musicans had in interpreting scores.

Taking into account these many degrees of difference between the A.A.C.M and any supposed norm certainly makes clear how much Association artists stood out. After all, Free Jazz, at least after the attention afforded "loft Jazz," was losing favor, as was Fusion. In the 1970's, those looking for the next great Jazz hero were more likely to settle on Keith Jarrett than Braxton. Jarrett, after all, not only had the advantage of working with two of the most-popular Jazz artists of the late 1960's, Charles Lloyd and Miles Davis, but brought in just-enough elements of the Free Jazz revolution, in both his solo-piano work and his quartet with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden, and Paul Motian, to please a broad range of listeners, if not critics. Alas, even Jarrett—or, for those less "purist," Pat Metheny—could not keep Jazz commercially viable. With little support coming from academia or government institutions, the A.A.C.M—no, the entire Jazz avant garde—found itself stuck between Rock and a hard place (i.e. the Lincoln Center). Compounded by the crass Marsalis-led commercialization/ codification of Jazz in the early 1980's, no other shift in U.S culture of the time, save perhaps the rise of religious fundamentalism, did more to assure North America's position as a backwater of Western civilization. When, in the latter half of the 1980's and the early '90's, Braxton surpassed his previous achievements with a new quartet (featuring Marilyn Crispell, Mark Dresser, and Gerry Hemingway) that brilliantly—and collectively—traversed between notation and improvisation, the mainstream did not pay attention, the music relegated to European labels such as Leo Records and European (or Canadian) festivals.

The last section of Chapter 9, "Diversity and Its Discontents: New American Music After the Jazz Age," brings the scale of Lewis's search for the reasons behind the A.A.C.M's problems with critics, Jazz or not, and for the origins of the limited conception among Americans of what constitutes "art music," to its widest expanse. He takes the reader back to the 1920's and the earliest attempts to delineate the "American" contribution to music. During that "roaring" age of illusory internationalism and peace, many Europeans and some North Americans suggested that "Jazz could form the basis for a uniquely American music" not excessively derivative of European models. As Lewis notes, the likes of composer Maurice Ravel, influential conductor Leopold Stokowski, and Alain Locke, philosopher of the Harlem Renaissance, were certain Jazz would serve as fertile ground for the still-young nation's classical/ art music. Others demurred from this positive optimistic perspective. In particular, Henry Cowell and Charles Ives fretted that Jazz would receive the serious interest that their own music, and other indigenous attempts at a North American Classical music, deserved.

Although Cowell clearly had scant respect for Jazz, Lewis's characterization of Ives seems off the mark. Lewis never quotes Ives directly, but instead indicts him by association with Cowell, "a leader of the self-consciously 'ultramodern' school of American composition [who] advocated the construction of 'a usable past' for American music that would elicit respect from the mavens of European high culture. Fashioning Charles Ives as 'the father of indigenous American art-music served this need." Lewis goes on to assert that Cowell "shared the elder composer's fear that their efforts to define an 'American' music would be overwhelmed by the strong worldwide interest in Jazz as constitutive of the best of American musical creativity," but he does not provide any indication as to where Ives expressed this notion. Even so, Ives and Cowell held justifiable concerns that their music would not receive its due. They too strived to create music that would not slavishly imitate European Classical music, and yet push the aural arts in new directions much like some European experimentalists were doing. Besides, Ives hardly deserves rebuke for any opinions he had about Jazz, as he had already composed his major works by the time Dixieland Jazz would have been heard in his part of the country; and yet showed genuine, respectful interest in popular-music forms like Ragtime and marching-band music. Indeed, the notion of clashing orchestras so crucial to some of Braxton's most-ambitious works, including the four-orchestras album and impossible-to-realize compositions like that calling for orchestras on different planets, was first explored by Ives, who shared with Braxton a love for the now-forgotten practice of marching bands competing with each other during parades. As for Cowell, we wonder if he held the unspoken concern that European admiration for Jazz rested more upon general condescending attitudes toward Americans, black or white, than genuine appreciation for the music.

Moreover, Cowell's mild disregard for Jazz hardly compares to John Cage's utter aversion. Certain comments Cage made about Jazz music find the usually-profound intellectual-composer veering into sheer idiocy. Lewis includes one of several quotes most of his readers are probably already familiar with: "Jazz per se derives from serious music. And when serious music derives from it, the situation becomes rather silly." Like I said, sheer idiocy. While Lewis does not suggest that either Cowell or Cage directly expressed racist ideas, needless to say certain presumptions about vernacular arts, or even about "ethnic" (read: non-West European) groups, played a role in their (lack of) appreciation for any music that developed beyond the purview of "high" European and Euro-American society. Granted, all sorts of otherwise-enlightened individuals of Cowell's or Cage's generations probably had the prejudiced views that were too common then (and remain common today, despite all the progress made in the West toward removing sadism (pace Richard Rorty) from our social interactions). But those writing about experimental music rarely dwell on Cage's closed-mindedness. The absurdity of the situation becomes clear when one notices how Theodor Adorno's racially-tinged critique of Jazz is referred to ad nauseum, or when listeners suggest that Karlheinz Stockhausen's crude remarks about the rhythms of modern popular music somehow discredits his views, or prove that he went bonkers in his later years. Why then do John Cage's downright-dumb views on most music not made by him and his friends not similarly effect our understanding of his philosophy? After all, these ideas unfortunately seem to have greater influence than the vast amount of brilliant music he had a hand in creating. Moreover, if Adorno's and Stockhausen's comments hint at past German racism, why doesn't Cage's brusque rejection of Jazz bring to mind his nation's own history of racist imperialist oppression, inflicted not just upon African Americans but the Mexican, the Filipino, the Vietnamese, and the Arab as well?

This elephant proved too big for the room in the review of A Power Stronger Than Itself that appeared in the Wire. There, and in one of the several letters to the editor it prompted, we find the hazy notion that Lewis somehow misrepresents the intentions of the "New York School" of composers that included Cage, Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, and Earle Brown. He in fact does not, but largely because he is not presenting a thorough analysis of these composers. Granted, he could have been more diplomatic in his treatment. For example, when Frank O'Hara [in 1959!] describes a Morton Feldman composition as "spontaneous music-making," Lewis responds that Feldman "was well known for his dislike of improvisation." Apparently Lewis does not consider that, in a discussion centered on aleatoric methods (indeterminacy) which Feldman, compared to his "New York School" peers, ultimately shied away from, the point is secondary. Besides, the composition in question is an earlier piece by Feldman, when he did experiment with chance and improvisation. Lewis also makes the important point that David Tudor generally preferred to write secondary performance scores when realizing aleatoric compositions. Tudor, apparently, remained wary of improvised performances. That said, not only does Lewis note that both Wolff and Brown were critical of these secondary scores, he fails to show any awareness of the improvisational music that did emerge from "Indeterminacy" experiments, whether by the New York School or in the late 1960's by Karlheinz Stockhausen, but most of all in the diverse musical experiments of several Fluxus artists, even though earlier in the book he quotes Charlotte Moorman, a major figure in the Fluxus movement, extensively.

Still, the broad cultural shift from the pluralist 1930's, through the massive upheavals of the next decade, to the reactionary early-Cold War era, undoubtedly closed Jazz music off from consideration as a crucial part, or the foundation, of "an indigenous American high-culture music." Lewis's argument that "in this context, 'indeterminacy' became a compositional method that could embrace the new spontaneity [of Bebop], while preserving both the primacy of core Eurological aesthetic and formal values, and the associated high/ low divide," is valid. Drawing upon William Appleman Williams and David Noble, Lewis also makes a crucial, and necessary, connection between the notion of a definite lack of indigenous sources of North American art music and the ideology of the open frontier that assumed that First Americans, as well the subaltern groups that lacked the "high" culture of their social superiors, had no significant cultural contribution to make. On the other hand, some later manifestations of the tradition initiated by Ives and Cowell certainly did question the divide between "high" and popular arts; and furthermore questioned whether one could speak of "aesthetic and formal values" as being European or African or Asian or what-have-you (and, again, Lewis sometimes has no problem with the high-low binary). Minimalist composers, some of whom were associated with Fluxus, pointedly looked to the Jazz and Rock band as a superior forum for their work compared to the orchestras and string quartets of European Classical music. After all, as Iain Anderson shows in This Is Our Music, the dark days of the early Cold War soon gave way to a new liberalist stage of United States imperialism, when its leaders strained to embrace pluralism once again (dim days, I suppose, but at least not dark).

When setting the scene of 1950's-early '60's Chicago early in his book, Lewis describes how the increase in white listeners of Jazz music had the adverse side-effect of contributing to the decline of live music in African American neighborhoods in Chicago and other cities (a process one cannot help but associate with the public-housing projects and "urban renewal" programs of the time that decimated or completely destroyed urban areas, especially those home to African American or other "ethnic" groups). Ironically then, especially given the racial-exclusive orientation of the Association, Lewis doesn't ponder why Jazz artists of the 1940's and '50's would have wanted respect from the likes of John Cage, or any sort of recognition from the arbiters of mainstream culture. Having argued that Cowell and Ives feared the attention Jazz received, lest their own music not get its proper due, Lewis then suggests that the "New York School" devoted little mental energy toward "popular" musics like Jazz. And yet oddly he seems surprised that Cage and company fared much better in procuring funding from government agencies and private foundations. While the Association in its early years rejected the possibility of government funding (unlike their peers in the B A G, who briefly managed to procure funds before the Society became less Great) it changed course only to find, as Lewis explains, that the "Indeterminacy" and Minimalist camps, not to mention all sorts of traditionalists, had already laid claim to special status as the progenitors of distinct "American" art music.

The tragedy of the lack of recognition A.A.C.M composers have suffered especially comes to light when we consider the sonic traits the long-form notated works of Braxton or Mitchell share with those of Morton Feldman. In his epic later works, such as For Philip Guston and String Quartet II, often lasting several hours, the "New York School" composer, living in Buffalo to be exact, necessarily worked closely with the interpreters; a side-by-side comparison of his working methods with those of Braxton and Mitchell would probably say a lot about music in an era of an eroding gulf between composer and performer. Mitchell's quieter, somber works especially invite comparisons. As with Feldman's music, they bring to mind the stillness of winter, its vast expanses of snow-covered fields; the certainty of death and failure, and the calm that awaits when Americans cease their impulsive social mores—plundering destruction followed by utopian dreaming—and simply live. We might say that the blank spaces and slow, non-"swing" pace of a lot of A.A.C.M music evokes the North, and thus may serve as a fateful outcome for post-Jazz "Black" music, evoking as well a significant part of African American history: the Great Migration from the South (which comes up in Chapter 1 and elsewhere in the book when Lewis relates the family histories of Association members) and the disparate destinies of northern blacks compared to their southern counterparts, whose supposed liberation buttresses the nation's imperialist dogma and simplistic historical boosterism, while northerners clash with subtle forms of caste and the grim reality of industrial decay. The result: a necessary meditation upon the darker side of the dual identity W.E.B DuBois spoke of, resulting in a music, which from its first legendary manifestation (Sound, credited to the The Roscoe Mitchell Sextet, now seeming like a gentle mocking of the listener's "jazz" expectations) to the present, often presents us with a deafening silence: the (non-)response befitting a society whose ideological rationale attempts to deny any sort of social identity, replacing it with dreams of the violent erasure of others' homes in time and place.


Seth Tisue - Fred Anderson, 2005

The A.A.C.M in the Present and Future
Lewis's tone certainly does at times turn caustic, but the claim made in the Wire review that the book is "polemical" is grossly unfair, at best suggesting that the critic in question has not come across many true polemical works in his reading. More likely, the book, and A.A.C.M music, makes the present-day follower of experimental musics uncomfortable, but not necessarily because of the racial issue discussed above. These listeners, besides the Wire, might also read Avant, Music Works, and the Leonardo Music Journal. Perhaps too they read smaller, less-professional (and often short-lived) magazines like the Sound Projector, Muckraker, Halana, or aMAZEzine, all of which are more considerate in their opinions and more holistic in their perspectives. All of these readings, though, encourage these listeners to embrace or ponder those music artists who push "boundaries" or reject standard practices. Or, if they don't, they praise a seemingly-random selection of popular artists who have caught their attention with some gesture or tactic of incorporating the avant garde into mass culture.

As a result, a strange phantom standard is applied to determine what gets discussed. Not the proclivities and quirks of the individual writers, given the apparent seriousness with which journalistic norms are maintained. Not even what's avoided in rival publications. Both would serve as fine criteria. They could even limit themselves in the standard fashion of newspapers: geographically. That is, as a British magazine, cover artists that fellow Britons are likely to encounter or, based upon links being established by said artists, should encounter in the near future. In fact, all three of these potential criteria are at work, but rarely acknowledged. The only music excluded is that which the editors at the moment consider too traditionalist, not "challenging" enough. No broad editorial perspective is given that would make all the parts add up to a cohesive whole. As the Wire's cover claimed in the past, they only offer accounts of varied "adventures in modern music," and few of these adventures, philosophically speaking, serve as the equivalent of anything other than vacations arranged by a travel agency. Granted, these publications did not formulate the rigid categories that make simplistic understandings of experimental music possible; they often serve as nothing more than mouthpieces for record labels, festival organizers and performance venues, promotional companies, and of course other writers (forming a feedback loop of writing that, even when negative in tone, is innocuous because it lacks deep critical engagement, flowing seamlessly into advertising copy). In short, musical journalism of the present day does not effectively fulfill its limited role.

Returning to concerns raised in Lewis's book, only the rarely-issued Halana presents Jazz and Improvised artists, black or white, as inseparable parts of an avant-garde lineage. Avant, like the Wire, includes Jazz and Improvised musics—both magazines have at times made them their principal focus—but rely upon commonly-accepted categories when it comes to conceptualization and contextualization, such as the acceptance in recent years of "EAI" (that is, "electroacoustic improvisation"); this acronymed version of a broader concept threatens to subsume all Improvised Electroacoustic into a genre made up of a tiny number of artists, and as such encourages a widening gulf between Improvised music that is electroacoustic and that which is not. In the U.S, Signal to Noise emerged as a Jazz/ Improvised magazine with Rock cross-over readership but has also perversely imitated the Wire, even copying aspects of the latter's design and formats. Two Jazz magazines, Coda and Cadence, that give Free/ modern Jazz its rightful place keep themselves confined to the broad Jazz realm.

From the diffuse base of knowledge these sources offer, experimental-music listeners, and artists, of the present day would learn a lot not just by delving into the vast phonographical record left by Jazz music, but also by focusing on A.A.C.M as the ultimate victorious end of Jazz: the achieved goal of creating a unique "American" approach to music. But a difficult task awaits those who try to listen to Jazz closely, to conceive of its products as art, like a Paul Klee painting or a Bill Knott poem. Amid the cultural "dumbing down" of the past three decades that has accompanied the ascendency of reactionary crony conservatism, the tasks proposed by the Marsalis contingent find favor over those demanded by the likes of Coleman, Steve Lacy, or the A.A.C.M. One can listen to "Classicist" Jazz and assume that what's heard is a faithful recreation or reflection of past masters. Then, when one hears, say, Fletcher Henderson or Thelonious Monk, or any Jazz artist, especially from the 1950's, when technology reached a point where the recordings sonically resemble those of the present day, one thinks he knows what he hears. It's just "jazz": the proscribed genre recognized by every record label and retail outlet, every magazine and book-publishing company—perhaps every human being alive. We don't hear a Count Basie or Horace Silver record as a work of art created by a few individuals at a specific time and place, making its unique contribution to a larger body of artistic knowledge and cultural history. We hear "jazz," and, sadly, for many Americans the nauseating image of Marsalis giving a moronic lecture on how "Jazz is like the Constitution" comes to mind.

Generally, those who appreciate Free/ modern Jazz place the earlier New York Free Jazz of Coleman, Taylor, Ayler et al. as the significant end point, with the A.A.C.M and European Improvised scenes as secondary off-shoots. In contrast, the Marsalis-prescribed mainstream view talks a little about Free Jazz (peculiarly giving Coleman his due, but few else) but ends with Fusion, from which the likes of Marsalis had to rescue pure true Bebop, to be preserved in all its sanctity and fragility. The earlier Free Jazz attains this centrality partially from its foundational position. But, as I suggest above, the A.A.C.M could just as well achieve the same centrality by way of its position as a logical conclusion, liberating Jazz from the burden of its rich history by way of an extended creative peak that lasted throughout the heady 1970's. After all, since the 1970's, few artists have established themselves as equals in cultural significance to the likes of Braxton or Mitchell while remaining "jazz" arists, with the possible exception of Ken Vandermark, the leader of the post-A.A.C.M Chicago scene. Indeed, in the new century, with The Territory Band, The Frame Quartet, and The Resonance Ensemble, Vandermark has explored non-Jazz possibilities more thoroughly than he had previously.

Another crucial factor counters the A.A.C.M's contemporary relevance: listeners can trace the lineage of many artists who came of age in the 1990's [Matthew Shipp, Satoko Fuji, Joe Morris, Blaise Siwula, Chris Speed, Dave Douglas, Vattel Cherry, Greg Cohen, Chris Corsano, Susie Ibarra, Jim Black] back to the New York Free Jazz scene that flourished (creatively, not commercially) for nearly two decades beginning in the late 1950's (and in which, as described above, A.A.C.M—plus B.A.G and U.G.M.A.A—artists played a major role from the middle 1970's into the '90's; though one does not see in these younger artists the same willingness to challenge "jazz" barriers that Association artists had). Meanwhile, new A.A.C.M artists since the late 1970's have been overshadowed by their predecessors (an aspect that Lewis addresses indirectly at least, in relating the divergent histories, and ensuing tensions, of the Association's Chicago and New York chapters, which in the 1980's formally went their separate ways) even as they rarely work with the older members or fail to pursue the implications of the radical experiments said older members engaged in. In short, the effective collective action engendered by the A.A.C.M, conducive as it was to the aesthetics and careers of early Association members, began to fade and only the organizational apparatus itself remained. In a ironic twist of fate, Fred Anderson, one of the oldest Association members, and always quite independent from the organization, has served as the mentor/ model par excellence for young Chicagoans, including Vandermark and Hamid Drake. Alas, the Association's historical fate, not good for its members new or old, is good for the rest of us, who are forced to look elsewhere when pondering which artists follow the models offered by the A.A.C.M, at least in part.


Enid Farber - The Art Ensemble of Chicago

A History of Musical Collectivism
We find them by returning to the early music [1966-1971] of the foundational A.A.C.M artists, focusing on a characteristic of their work shared then by others on the vanguard of Jazz, academia, and at times popular music: free collective improvisation. The "free" portion had already been achieved of by the middle 1960's, but collective improvisation—where all musicians involved improvise, with no single player being the designated leader—developed more slowly (though quicker than the collective improvisation common of Dixieland Jazz had fallen out of favor decades prior). While certain artists decided, or tried, to turn toward completely-improvised music, more often than not those engaging in collective improvisation employed some sort of pre-planned impetus, or mixed it with other methods. That said, the artists of the time who created Collectivism were not all doing so for the same reasons. Moreover, many artists of the present day whose work follows logically from past Collectivism do not always provide easy clues as to discovering their antecedents.

The desire to create long-form collectively-improvised works began to manifest itself early on in the Free Jazz revolution. The Ornette Coleman album that bears the movement's name, recorded in 1961, took a big—hesitant—step. Employing a double quartet, but within a loose framework, the players found that the structures inherent in their line-up had been rendered pointless (even as we're talking about the piano-less quartet Coleman had become famous for, less bound by tradition as it was supposed to be). In John Coltrane's Ascension [1965], the players constitute a singular mass of musicians. The rhythms seem freer relative to what the others are contributing, following upon the work of Sunny Murray and Milford Graves. Not free to ignore the others though—quite the opposite. As Coleman had said about improvised "solos" following the tune itself, not the pattern of the tune, the drummers and the bassists had to respond with greater variability, not just aware of both minute changes in shade and broad shifts in color (as any esteemed Jazz artist would have been when backing his collaborators) but altering the larger compositional contour as well. The saxophonists and trumpeters, meanwhile, each get a chance to "solo" on top, but what they're on top of is, to an extent, in flux.

Neither of these epochal albums, though, even comes close to matching the artistic peaks Coleman and Coltrane reached elsewhere. Coleman would nearly surpass his early records with certain later groupings that also moved in Collectivist directions: first, his trio with David Izenzon and Charles Moffett and, second, the three records featuring his young son Denardo on drums and himself playing trumpet and violin; these records, especially the first, The Empty Foxhole [1966], transcend collectivist goals on the way toward radical primitivist techniques that would not become prevalent until the Punk era. Coltrane too would attain new artistic heights, with his later quartet featuring his wife Alice on piano and Rashied Ali on drums in addition to bassist Jimmy Garrison. That is, like the Coleman-Izenzon-Moffett trio, Collectivist music came best in small groups not far-removed from standard Jazz formats; Albert Ayler's best records also factor here. However, albums considerably broader in scope, featuring larger groups, were also appearing, notably Sun Ra's Magic City, recorded in 1965, and Don Cherry's Symphony for Improvisers, 1966.

At this point, the development of collective improvisation was not antithetical to notation (nor has it ever been since). Sun Ra and Cecil Taylor certainly used notated/ rehearsed portions before embarking upon concerts and studio recordings, whether the pieces composed in the moment of said performances utilized extensive collective improvisation or not. Sun Ra at least, if not Taylor, differed from Coleman and the A.A.C.M artists, though, in eschewing any sort of engagement with the long tradition of European notated music. Longer pieces became the norm for Taylor, but they were achieved via extensive improvisation upon pre-composed elements; the intensity—and density—of Taylor's work, which even in duo format always seemed to achieve a sort of critical mass, the listener (and at times his co-composers) straining to follow, helped give Free Jazz its awkward alternate moniker of "energy music." While improvisation was certainly emanating an aura of infallibility in this period of extraordinary cultural radicalism and dramatic social change, ideological aversion to notation only became a significant factor in Britain over the next three years, as A.M.M and the Spontaneous Music Ensemble (S.M.E) ventured forth with a clear, though restricted, method of achieving Collectivist music via completely-improvised performances/ compositions. In the S.M.E, founded by drummer John Stevens, great emphasis was placed on each player's ability to hear what each of his companions was playing at the very moment said player chose to make his own contribution. This sort of collectivism, with its democratic hopes of one's freedom not trampling upon another's, partially responded to the nascent critiques of Free Jazz at the time: that chaos now prevailed. A.M.M, whose long-term members have been, varyingly, Eddie Prévost, Keith Rowe, John Tilbury, and Lou Gare, also emphasized improvisation, despite the presence early on of Cornelius Cardew, who composed Aleatoric works like Treatise. As with the S.M.E, a penchant for non-authoritarian collectivism and intellectual rigor pertaining to the question of how to create long, cohesive works via improvisation became defining traits of "A.M.Music."

Despite their preference for total improvisation separating them from Collectivism generally (tempered in the S.M.E's case by the always-unpredictable Stevens making use of notation or instructional pieces) these two groups heralded a turn toward composer collectives, all emphasizing improvisation. The line separating Free Jazz, and Improvised music, from Collectivism remained blurry, but the term finds its worth by incorporating post-Classical/ academic-based improvisational groups into a discussion usually confined to Jazz/ post-Jazz. Roger Sutherland's aforementioned New Perspectives in Music, in its "Improvised Music" chapter, in contrast mostly covers the former, and is crucial to the discussion here. Besides A.M.M and the S.M.E, other English Collectivist groups included Iskra 1903, the Music Improvisation Company, and the People Band. Others were scattered across a wide terrain: from Italy, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza and initially Musica Elettronica Viva (M.E.V), largely made up of Americans; from Japan, Group Ongaku (who were the true pioneers in this regard, working in the early 1960's) and the Taj Mahal Travellers; from France-Germany, New Phonic Art; and from Canada, the Nihilist Spasm Band. No matter the backgrounds of their members, these particular groups distinguished themselves by pointedly moving away from, if not rejecting outright, any sort of standard practice found in Classical, Jazz, or Academic Electroacoustic musics. Several other ensembles were exploring collective improvisation but only moved beyond these traditions briefly, or intermittingly: they performed, or improvised upon, the notated works of their members or others, including Aleatoric works, whether Fluxus-like "event scores" or other Cage-inspired concoctions; or they did not take on a singular identity, as in Collectivist or Rock music, but instead were named after the members themselves, in standard Jazz fashion. The groups in the former category include The Scratch Orchestra, The Sonic Arts Union, Gentle Fire, Intermodulation, and the Stockhausen Group; the groups in the latter include the Evan Parker/ Paul Lytton duo; the trio of Howard Riley, Barry Guy, and Tony Oxley; the trio of Peter Brötzmann, Fred van Hove, and Han Bennink; and numerous other, often ad hoc, groupings. The basic dictum John Stevens advocated—players listening closely to each other while in the act of composing—is one trait echoed by Collectivist and quasi-Collectivist artists across the board, including the Nuova Consonanza group, M.E.V, and The Scratch Orchestra.

The two early A.A.C.M groups, the Art Ensemble and the Braxton-Smith-Jenkins-McCall quartet, figure in these quasi-Collectivist categories (the latter even took on a collective moniker, the Creative Construction Company, for a New York concert in 1970 at which they were also joined by Abrams and bassist Richard Davis, later documented on two L.P's). Both groups engaged in collective improvisations, especially for live performances, but for the most part at least utilized a notated or rehearsed piece to initiate a larger performance/ composition. Nonetheless, the contrast with standard Free Jazz was enough to draw attention: as Lewis says about the early Art Ensemble performances in Paris, "The group's unusual hybrid of energy, multi-instrumentalism, humor, silence, found sounds and homemade instruments—and most crucially, extended collective improvisations instead of heroic individual solos—proved revelatory to European audiences." Indeed, with the sudden rash of interest in the A.A.C.M, the collective nature of the Art Ensemble, and of the Association generally, was noteworthy to Jazz critics accustomed to thinking in terms of individuals and the groups they led. The presence in Paris of numerous other Jazz artists, both of the recent Free Jazz era and of the Bebop past, made the Chicagoans stand out even more. The two original Association migrants to the competitive New York scene were active in its leading Collectivist groups: the aforementioned Revolutionary Ensemble, featuring Jenkins, and more intriguing still: Circle, a quartet launched in 1970 that featured Braxton in a sort of declaration of independence from the A.A.C.M, as he joined what had been a trio of (non-Association) artists: Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Barry Altschul. Circle captures well enough the unsettled, dynamic nature of the New York scene of the time; as with the Paris ex-pat scene, Fusionists, Free Jazzers, and those of a traditionalist bent interacted with each other with greater frequency than in the decades since. It led soon enough to a quartet with Wheeler in Corea's place [the Wheeler quartet first appeared in 1971, on The Complete Braxton, a double L.P released by Freedom Records, but would not appear on record again until the Arista deal]. Although they did not partake in theatre, and multi-instrumentalism was not a centerpiece of their concept, Circle, because on the surface they both veered closer to standard Free Jazz and, via Corea and Holland, had the crucial Miles Davis connection, made a strong claim for collective improvisation warranting a place in the mainstream of Jazz in the 1970's, allowing it to co-exist with renditions of standards and performances of the members' notated works.

While artists moving toward Collectivism from the Jazz lineage in essence extended, and enhanced, the improvised portions of the music they had been playing, often excising the tune (or "head") entirely but in a manner that seems holistic (not rejecting the Jazz past) those who came from an academic background were compelled by the composer-performer binary into an oppositional stance toward the tradition. The New York School, Fluxus composers like LaMonte Young and Yoko Ono, and later Karlheinz Stockhausen, in Aus Den Sieben Tagen [1968], with literal instructional pieces or graphic scores more open to interpretation than notation, liberated the performer while still maintaining the semblance of a authorial role for themselves. We need not engage in ideological challenges to this continuation of the composer's dominant role, as these composers, by all accounts, were well aware of the contradictory nature of any sort of abdication of control over "their" music. Instead, questions more profound raised their specter. "Event scores," ultimately part of the broader Conceptual Art movement, asked the performer and the listener: what effect does reading this text have on the musicians when they then embark upon an improvised composition? Is that effect substantially different than, say, the weather? the room in which the performance is taking place? the audience? the general mental state of the musicians? No matter what the musicians decided regarding the significance of the text, not surprisingly several musicians in the Cageian-Fluxus scene, or who worked with Stockhausen (including members of New Phonic Art) decided simply to drop the notation and instead improvise collectively, working out any pre-arranged aspects of the composition on their own.

Despite the composer-performer binary's power, academic-based Collectivists, unlike the European Improvised musicians, usually did not make clear decisive shifts toward collective improvisation upon rejection of notation. Instead, they improvised as a way to engage further in the work they had already embarked upon. As Sutherland says, the turn toward improvisation was "a logical extension of compositional practices [... that had] questioned the idea that the score should serve as a definitive blueprint." The almost-utopian visions that animated them also lead them to have no delusions about Jazz or the new Improvised music that was often producing music similar to their own. To speak rather crudely, they were more High Modernist than post-Modernist; eclecticism was not always the name of the game. In particular, Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza was limited in membership to composers; as Art Lange notes in an article at Point of Departure, Franco Evangelisti did not want Jazz musicians already accustomed to improvising to divert the group onto an already-worn path, seeking to avoid, as Lange interprets it, "any taint of instrumental virtuosity for its own sake." (Other members of the group, though, have acknowledged the influence of Jazz on their work.) As Sutherland puts it, their "declared aim was to fuse composition and performance in one simultaneous creative act." The progenitors of European Improvised music, meanwhile, were free to reject the European Classical tradition outright, in favor of the newer North American music. The A.A.C.M differed to a greater extent: they moved toward collective improvisation and traditional notation nearly simultaneously; they too had a greater willingness to engage with the Jazz tradition.

Indeed, with the Collectivists coming from an academic, or at least Cageian-Fluxus, background, a spectrum is easily defined, measuring degrees of freedom from the composer-performer binary and notational music. One could say the Nuova Consonanza group attempted to pre-empt a revolt of the performers. With New Phonic Art, though, we see this revolt taking place anyway. Musica Elettronica Viva pursued its implications further, to the point of defying the rebellion itself; as one of its members, Alvin Curran, says in the notes for the four-disc set, M.E.V 40 (1967-2007): "we still openly embraced our European musical heritage." Group Ongaku had already featured the performers taking charge. One of its members, Takehisa Kosugi, later participated in the Taj Mahal Travellers; already a veteran of Fluxus and a collaborator with Cage, here Kosugi joined his younger cohorts in long-form spacious explorations focused on electronic manipulation of sound, even as they preferred to perform outdoors. The result overlaps well enough with some of the free-form work branded as Fusion or Komische: Cluster, Miles Davis c. 1972-1974, the Herbie Hancock Sextet, Can's "Aumgn"... and so on. This spectrum corresponds to an historical progression as well, clear enough in Michael Nyman's aforementioned Experimental Music. From the origins of "Indeterminacy" in the 1950's, when the scores being written by Cage and Wolff "not only demanded considerable technical expertise in performance, but also the ability to comprehend quite sophisticated abstract musical concepts and to unravel a complex notational sign-language," Aleatoric composition turned toward the "untrained musician-performers" and "unambiguous, concrete proposals" of Fluxus artists. Thus we see the principal role Fluxus played in music history, a point not to be taken lightly given that much of the scholarship presents it as a visual-arts movement.

Sutherland's book highlights the Stockhausen Group and the Scratch Orchestra, showing how even quasi-Collectivists could effectively traverse their origins and arrive at profound, and beautiful, collectively-improvised music. Stockhausen gradually allowed the group of musicians he worked with regularly throughout the decade greater control over the final result, culminating in Ceylon, which as Sutherland describes featured Stockhausen as just another member of his Group, not as recording engineer and final editor of the performances (filtering and mixing, projecting the sounds into the space) which had been his role. Cardew meanwhile aimed "to combine the formal intricacy of art music with the spontaneity and communality of folk and ethnic idioms." With Howard Skempton and Michael Parsons he founded the Scratch Orchestra, and ended up "challenging the status distinction between amateur and professional" to a greater extent than any other Collectivist group. The Orchestra's performances mixed a wide array of activities and/ or individuals together: they could include excerpts from Cardew's The Great Learning, an elaborate collection of pieces combining standard notation (with many variables left to the performer's interpretation) with instructions explaining differing ways to enact the music; or Improvisation Rites, "short, mainly verbal instructions which do not attempt to influence the music to be played but may establish a community of feeling, or a communal starting point, through ritual"; or other Aleatoric works by members or other composers, such as Christopher Hobbs's Voicepiece or Christian Wolff's Play. Unlike most Collectivist music, wherein recordings became the music's final form, the Scratch Orchestra left behind few records but many texts, especially in the Scratch Anthology of Compositions, mostly written by the many members who passed through the Orchestra's ranks, including non-musicians taking seriously the notion of amateur music (also seen in The Portsmouth Sinfonia). In other words, Stockhausen, later accused by Cardew of "serving imperialism," had moved closer to collective improvisation than the Orchestra. Moreover, from 1971 until the group's final dissolution in 1974, Cardew's conversion to Maoism led him to reject "self-indulgent, subjectivist" experimentation and "meant a return to more traditional musical skills and techniques and a consequent reinforcement of the hierarchy between professional and amateur," curiously portending Stockhausen's rejection of improvisation and retaking the mantle of the individual composer in complete control in the latter half of the 1970's.

On this matter we should also consider the division Nyman employs: that between the avant garde and his limited view of what constitutes experimental music. In contrast to the broad definition laid out above, Nyman's includes only the Cageian-Fluxus and Minimalist scenes. While he thus necessarily covers many composers who rank among the Collectivists (especially David Behrman and Frederick Rzewski) he does so from the perspective of the singular composer experimenting with new, process-oriented methods of notation. Presenting as clear and thorough of an overview of Aleatoric composition as currently available, he nevertheless does so as a enthusiast of these methods as opposed to those of the "Serialism-based opposition" (that is, what was seen as the avant garde at the time he was writing). In retrospect though, the Classical establishment of the time, whether the Serialist avant garde or traditionalists, appears to be a minor player. The relevant distinction at work, as suggested in this essay, is not so dualistic: the Academic Electroacoustic composers, who in their approach to composition often deviated even further from standard notation than Nyman's experimentalists, but who reaffirmed the centrality of the individual in European art music; and indeed Nyman's protagonists, similarly individualist but struggling to enable collectives and processes in place of composers and eternally-finalized compositions. Perhaps then Stockhausen, despite his earlier involvement with Serialism, had been liberated not just by the growing independence of his Group, but also by the startling evolution of his electroacoustic works where he had remained the singular composer: Telemusik [1966] and Hymnen [1966-67] especially, as they preceded and informed his turn toward improvisation from Kurzwellen [1968] onward.

On the other (Jazz) side of the spectrum, lines of development and demarcations don't appear so simple. The People Band and the Nihilist Spasm Band exemplify an approach to post-Jazz Collectivist music that evoked an anarchist ethos, instead of the radical democracy of the S.M.E. For those coming from a Classical/ academic background, the decision to make collective work one's principal focus was crucial, while the nascent European Improvised music of the time saw a strong drive toward the individual, in part because of logistical concerns, and financial constraints, but also because the likes of Derek Bailey and Evan Parker sought to develop their music from the ground up, redefining the individual's relationship with his instrument. In his biographical essay on John Stevens available to read at the European Free Improvisation site, Martin Davidson notes that, in Stevens's concept for the band (wherein he used a new, quieter drum kit so that his sounds would not overwhelm the other musicians) "each musician's part was distinct and recognisable as theirs," which as we'll see below distinguishes S.M.E—not to mention all Improvised music—from Collectivism generally. While the options available outside the Classical/ academic world gave post-Classical Collectivists enough creative fodder, many Improvised artists, especially in Britain, ultimately took an oppositional stance not just to the Classical past of their nations, but to the Jazz tradition they were inspired by as well. One could dismiss all Modernist/ post-Modernist Classical music, even as it included the New York School and Mauricio Kagel, Olivier Messiaen and Stephen Wolpe (hardly a hidebound milieu) but to confine oneself to composition-by-improvisation, solo or collective, was remarkably rigid, though worthy of respect. Association artists, though never restricting themselves like so, nonetheless welcomed the European improvisors. Leo Smith would form a trio with Peter Kowald and Günter Baby Sommers in the late 1970's that ranks among the finest Improvised-music group, a testament surely to the adaptive capabilities of A.A.C.M artists; while Smith, Braxton, and Lewis participated in Bailey's Company gatherings.

As Curran's comment makes evident, Musica Elettronica Viva stand apart from other post-Classical Collectivists, in that they avoided what often turned into an uneasy agitated relationship with the Classical tradition. Indeed, M.E.V, because of its holistic methods, serves as an excellent entry way into a larger discussion of Collectivism. While the Nuova Consonanza group sought to subsume the individual to the overall composition, as if music was too grand, too eternal, for any mere human to claim authorship, M.E.V let the individuals involved impose themselves, allowed for a motley amalgamation of sonorities—from the mass of noise emerging from Curran's and Richard Teitelbaum's battery of electronic devices to Rzewski's expressionistic piano playing. Besides core members Curran, Rzewski, Teitelbaum, and Garrett List, the group has also included, in its early years, Allan Bryant and, at various points later in its history, Steve Lacy and George Lewis (the M.E.V 40 collection is especially revealing of these later meetings, as the group's published output had previously consisted of early recordings). They embraced one-off collaborations (most of all in Sound Pool, a piece that entailed inviting audience members to participate); both Ivan Vandor of the Nuova Consonanza group and Cornelius Cardew participated at times. Because they continued to play beyond Collectivism's early-1970's heyday, and some of its members developed extensive oeuvres outside the group, M.E.V have become perhaps the exemplary Collectivist group that did not become subsumed by European Improvised music (unlike A.M.M). The members of M.E.V also respected and drew upon the Jazz tradition. As Teitelbaum says in the M.E.V 40 notes, besides John Cage "we also received much inspiration from the African-American experimental tradition. [...] In part it was that influence that encouraged M E V's music toward interaction, stimulus, and response rather than the cooler, non-reactive independence espoused by Cage."

Fittingly, Lewis mentions the group's members as among the few artists coming out of "pan-European"/ Cageian scenes to appreciate Jazz's proper position as an experimental music. Lewis's own camaraderie with these musicians leads him to ignore the differences between M.E.V and A.A.C.M ensembles. Compared to Association artists, the former come up short-handed when it comes to diversity of methods pursued within the collective. No matter the diversity and number of the notated works Curran, Teitelbaum, and Rzewski have completed, they have generally not performed such works with M E V. Instead, the group has served as a forum for those involved to engage in collective improvisation or enact their compositions more suited to a collectivist approach. They did conceive of varied scenarios before the fact, only rarely resembling scores in the standard sense, generally in the same vein as "event scores" and other Aleatoric methods except with the obvious elimination of the composer-performer divide (Rzewski, for example, composed the initial score for Sound Pool); they would also on occasion use Jazz-like "heads" to impel improvisation, such as when Lacy played with them. But the compositions M.E.V members realized elsewhere take them back into the academic confines of post-Modernist Classical music. In contrast, the early A.A.C.M groups served as the principal vehicles for their members, or at least they could conceivably have done so. They improvised collectively, with no apparent leader; they improvised collectively with one musician taking the lead, recalling the typical Jazz "solo" or where the bassist and percussionists took a secondary supporting position; they included, or did not include, space for collective improvisations when performing each other's notated scores; and they performed pre-arranged/ rehearsed pieces, not necessarily notated, with or without individual members taking a "solo" and/ or collective improvisations. Moreover, the theatrical elements presented a mix of elements both/ either pre-planned and/ or improvised by the collective.

Even sympathetic attempts at introducing the A.A.C.M to layman audiences err on the side of myopia. They will focus on, or at least begin with, the difference between the stereotypical relentless intensity of Free Jazz and the silent spaces and stately reserve often heard in A.A.C.M music. But this difference is, first, misleading, since Association members surely at times ventured into the frenzied terrain we associate with the most "out-there" of Free Jazz; second, it only hints at the startling range of actions and methods at work in these early years of the A.A.C.M. The quiet moments made up just one aspect, as did the louder, heated passages. Lewis offers a good description of the concerts given by the Braxton-Smith-Jenkins-McCall quartet that so astounded, and confused, Parisian audiences in 1969, even if he oddly contrasts it with the "sustained high-energy" of Free Jazz: "Quick changes of mood were the rule, ranging from the reverent to the ludic. A quiet, sustained, 'spiritual' texture offered by one musician might be rudely interrupted by an ah-ooh-gah horn or a field holler from another. A New Orleans-style brass fanfare would quickly be dunked in a roiling sea of tuned metal trash cans. An ironically demented fake-Bebop theme could be cut up into a series of miniatures, punctuated by long silences and derisively terminated by a Marx Brothers raspberry." Certainly seems like "sustained high energy" to me. One begins to see how collectivist strategies result in music starkly different from that largely dictated by a lone individual, giving way as he does to the combined talents of several composers. And, moreover, how most Collectivist music, when compared to A.A.C.M music, inevitably comes off as one-dimensional.

We do not aim to rebuke the M.E.V members because the compositions they enacted beyond the collective often veered quite far in method and style from that which they performed as a group; or for their persistent connections with academia. The apparent duality in their work, though not a barrier to creativity, and their social contexts, nonetheless all bear upon common understandings of who and what gets counted as experimental or art music, bringing us back to the principal question of Lewis's book. Even with Collectivist music melding the Jazz and Classical worlds together in startling, utopianist ways, social divisions ran deep. David Behrman had studied at Harvard with Rzewski. While Behrman went to Ann Arbor to participate in the ONCE festivals with Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma, and Alvin Lucier (his future Sonic Arts Union bandmates) Rzewski went to Europe; that their paths eventually crossed again is a testament to the "small word" nature of the radical art movements of the time. Joseph's book provides a revealing glimpse into this world, especially in emphasizing Christian Wolff's role as a professor at Harvard, helping to attract both Henry Flynt and LaMonte Young there, however briefly. The numerous studies of the Fluxus movement (especially those discussing the role of Rutgers University) also provide glimpses into the social interactions among young optimistic men and women that drove these radical art movements often unfairly deemed to be anti-social and deadly serious. The A.A.C.M artists did not initially reside within these small, inter-connected worlds. And as often as Lewis, Smith, and Braxton made bold entries into the realm of post-Classical experimentalism—in New York and Europe, at the Kitchen and the New Music America festivals—they remained outsiders. Their early experiences, and the music that resulted, are too removed from the concerns and experiences of the white middle and upper classes of the 1950's and early 1960's, to fit within such social settings. Their eclecticism remains their strongest point, and thus, amid the jealousy and hearsay that stews in any small society with limited resources, no matter how cosmopolitan, their downfall as well. In the end, even the careers of Rzewski, Curran, and Teitelbaum seem constricted.

From the Jazz side, the European variant of Improvised music quickly developed its own methods: regardless of its ideological spats [Bailey v. Parker, Rowe v. Prévost], it focused on the individual musician exploring "extended" techniques, uniting with others in a collectivist-improvised setting. Perhaps the Improvised-music camp could claim for total improvisation the better path to collectivism, but only if one shares their idealization of improvisation in and of itself, and their still-evident aversion to notation. The hardcore improvising methods of Bailey ultimately seem to be little more than good practice to be a backing musician; the music that results from the meeting of such minds lacks the input of those willing to be brusque enough to think of anything beforehand (the horror!). Bailey, always the iconoclast, at least would gladly serve as a backing musician at times. Others—Parker and Tony Oxley, for example, or the entire Dutch and German scenes when compared to the British—realized that they would need to conceptualize their work before the fact; Parker at least has specifically stated as such. Still, few Improvised artists, individually or collectively, have built up an extensive body of work that rivals Braxton's (or Taylor's or Sun Ra's) except conceivably as solo artists (and here only Parker ranks so highly). The results still come most fruitful in fleeting groupings that explore the dynamics of the particular musicians gathered, then pass away because no-one involved wants to exploit the collective material for their ends that, yes, may be personal, individualistic, but which may also impel the involvement of others willing to sacrifice, for the time being, their cherished atomistic freedom.

Surprisingly, the oft-touted multi-instrumentalism of the A.A.C.M distances them from any ideal Collectivism. Lewis's discussion of the issue in the "New York" chapter disappoints anyone in league with Punk-inspired primitivism, but it again reminds us of the A.A.C.M's conservatism-within-radicalism, and brings up another point of difference between Association artists and Collectivists, partially regarding—once again!—John Cage. For Association members, multi-instrumentalism not only expanded the sonic opportunities available to the composer, but also challenged the "star system" wherein individuals associated only with one instrument dominate public perceptions and presentations of Jazz. With certain artists (Braxton, Mitchell, Threadgill, Jarman, Ewart) playing several different kinds of saxophones, clarinets, and flutes; the brass players expanding their palette as well, to include, for example, the sousaphone (which Lewis plays on his brilliant Triple Slow Mix); everyone joining the drummers in their exploration of "little instruments" (often including not only as diverse an array of percussion instruments as possible but also found/ homemade objects); and a selected number delving into electronics... the result, on many A.A.C.M records, is what one doesn't know who's playing what, allowing the listener to focus on the whole result, the overall effect. Or, as Lewis phrases it: "the focus of expressive articulation shifts from the commodificatory construction of the heroic individual instrumentalist to primordial forms of sound, rhythm and movement." So far, sounds like Nuova Consonanza or M.E.V. As Teitelbaum says in the aforementioned liner notes: "By not supplementing the remote quad P.A with nearby individual monitors, we 'played' the whole space in a way that contributed to sensations of interpenetration and out-of-body experience such that it was frequently difficult to identify who in the collective web of sound was doing what (and to whom)."

However, Lewis claims that "the use of little instruments was not necessarily intended as an escape from the challenge of virtuosity," furthering positing "pure spontaneity as a chimerical ideal of autonomy that has little to do with the historical, social, and cultural situatedness of actual improvisation." Cage hoped that musicians could play instruments they are not especially skilled at, with the resulting music being more intuitive, truly improvised in the moment. As already noted, Ornette Coleman sought renewal by taking on two new instruments, the trumpet and violin, performing publicly and recording with them without being able to play them as "well" as he could the alto saxophone. One must keep in mind here the widely-contrasting experiences that come with different instruments and different instrumentalists. As described in the M.E.V 40 notes, Frederic Rzewski may have temporarily rejected the piano in favor of playing a large piece of glass shaped like a grand piano (contact microphones attached) with his hands and divers objects, but in doing so he may have still seen this new instrument "as embodying potential for sonic invention that could be fully realized through the familiarization process known as 'practicing'" (Lewis's words). [Lewis perhaps stretches this argument too far when he quotes a Javanese court musician attesting to the necessity of practice in playing a gong, as if the "little instruments" occupied a role in early A.A.C.M music comparable to that of gongs in Javanese Gamelan music.] Still, M.E.V and certain other Collectivist groups (including the People Band, the Nihilist Spasm Band, and the Taj Mahal Travellers) allowed for expanded instrumental palettes to lead to a rejection of virtuosity. In other words, the democratic ethos we already saw at work in the Spontaneous Music Ensemble remains in play despite the inclusion of the non-musician, even—with M.E.V—the audience member.

Mindful of what we learned in Chapter 4—that those who did not want to focus on notation were still welcome because, as improvisors, they would still contribute to their peers' composition—we already realize that A.A.C.M members could move with ease from their earlier collectivisms toward projects focusing on the notated works of individual members, even if such projects took form, on the surface, of Jazz albums with a set leader (especially in the case of Mitchell and Threadgill). The shortcomings of this conservatism are also obvious and of course should not pass without comment. A.A.C.M music since the late 1970's has lacked much of its volatility, its countering of listeners' expectations, that distinguished its earliest products. The Art Ensemble of Chicago has remained surprisingly diverse in its output, and moreover central to the careers of its members, with the exception of Roscoe Mitchell, whose work outside the group since the middle 1970's has fruitfully co-existed with the group's. But from their late-1970's return onward, the group never emphasized collectively-improvised long-form works as much as it did in its early years. When Joseph Jarman, who had left the group in 1993, rejoined after Lester Bowie's death in 1999, the resulting album, The Meeting, stood out precisely because of its free-form structures, a seeming return to the group's early days. Another recent A.A.C.M album, Streaming, featuring a trio of Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell, also captivated many listeners because of Lewis's extensive use of electronics and it offered a chance to hear the musicians in question in a looser, collectivist setting.

An important counter-argument to any claims of the A.A.C.M's radicalism is perhaps troubling: namely, that they were forced into collectivist strategies because of their position as outcasts with little institutional support. However, such a claim ignores the general history of modern experimental music, wherein most of the innovative work has increasingly been made by artists who socially speaking are closer to the A.A.C.M than to the privileged positions once occupied by the Cageian-Fluxus, or post-Serialist academic, vanguard. The A.A.C.M's collectivism was not a temporary rebellion, especially as they could not have known that a long academically-supported career as a post-Modernist Classical composer was waiting for them. Besides, as often as Braxton released records that feature him principally as the composer, belonging in the Classical section of the record shop, and despite Smith's, Braxton's, and Lewis's university positions, these exceptions in their overall experiences only show that even with plentiful means available to them they would not have taken traditionalist routes. Whatever petrifaction took place has proved to be minimal. Again, compare Braxton to the M.E.V members: though he moved away from working with his fellow Association members earliest, pursuing a musical career that featured performances of his own compositions almost exclusively, much of his notated work, especially by the time of the quartet with Crispell, Dresser, and Hemingway, was written and performed in such a way that other members could be co-composers, at least in principal (the positive influence of the Jazz paradigm at work). With his "Ghost Trance" music, Braxton made another major leap transcending the composer-performer divide, resulting in music tantalizingly close to his early Collectivism. While we would not want to simplify the works of the M.E.V members or others, only Teitelbaum, with his long-standing work on the potential of live electronics, truly eludes the dualism that has encompassed the work of his peers. While Lewis wants us to lament with him that Association members did not have sufficient opportunities to participate in the European tradition on its own terms, a request to which we certainly assent, we also want A.A.C.M artists, and similar-minded experimentalists, to reconsider the path they took away from Collectivism (to the relatively-limited extent they turned away from it at all, granted) in contrast to the popular-music realm, where quasi-Collectivism is the norm.

Despite these qualifications, the A.A.C.M's Collectivism—arrived at by musicians from a Jazz lineage—has proved to be the most thorough and least reductionist. To reiterate just how that is so, look to what at first seems to be a secondary matter broached in Nyman's book: the problem that come with recording process-oriented music. Echoing Cardew's remarks on the issue, Nyman asserts that recordings "preserve chiefly the form that something took, give at best an indistinct hint as to the feeling, and cannot of course convey any sense of time and place." A harsh, but fair, assessment. Again drawing upon Cardew, he then states, "what a recording produces is a separate phenomenon." In other words, what is, a priori, a basic fact all recording artists must address Nyman's experimentalists have apparently discovered in disappointment. These detractions of the value of recording of course recall those of Derek Bailey. With both the Cage-wrought attempt to embrace, and imitate, the sounds of "nature" and Improvised music's similar demand that music not attempt to persist beyond the moment of its making, we see not only a false dichotomy between man and his surrounding environment, but also an attempted reification of ideas analyzing music, as if making music which embodies its own conceptualization somehow frees the artist from status as a creator of the sentient world. Bailey's well-known book Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music [1980] talks of "non-idiomatic" improvisation, fostering continued Western biases against cultural traditions that do not posit themselves as universal; any conception of "non-idiomatic" music quickly becomes itself an idiom, much like the "Post-Modernist" rejection of grand historical narratives soon became teleological. As in Conceptual Art, those who don't want to create at all or at least deny themselves agency regarding any larger form or temporal course their creations take nonetheless continue to create, in some cases presumably because they are being paid to do so, or would have found careers solely as critics too boring. Moreover, if one endeavors at the same time to embrace tradition and yet also to subvert tradition, as the A.A.C.M artists did, this felt need to rebel, to liberate those who chose to chain themselves and so don't deserve sympathy anyway, comes to seem simply absurd. If you had succeeded in freeing yourself, you'd feel free to do it all, all at once or in turn (whichever).

This reader notices similarities in Sutherland's descriptions of the music of The Taj Mahal Travellers, the Nuova Consonanza group, and M.E.V. The Taj Mahal Travellers "combined traditional Eastern instruments (Shakuhachi flute, Chinese mouth organ) with invented instruments and live electronics [...] which could be used in turn. The result was a vast stream of continuously changing sound elements, its textures shifting as gradually and as unpredictably as the currents of wind or water." About M.E.V, he says: "Instrumental and electronic sound identities are merged into a dense wall of sound." About Nuova Consonanza: "The members of the ensemble used their instrumental virtuosity to destroy the identity of their instruments, creating from the shattered remnants of instrumental timbre a vast continuum of original colours and textures. [...] Melodic lines and instrumental contours do emerge from this infinitely varied colour spectrum but with extreme restraint and the utmost circumspection. [...] The more each instrumental identity is shattered into many different color mutations the more it loses its individual character and merges with others." The characteristic Sutherland notes in all three—the morphing of individual voices into a collective stream or wall, or some sort of amorphous mass—certainly also applies to A.M.M, New Phonic Art, and the Stockhausen Group, as well as much European Improvised music, and at times the Art Ensemble. This outcome, seemingly contradictory or disappointing at first, serves as just another confirmation that efforts to liberate oneself from the idiomatic, like Bailey's, end up merely creating another idiom. Lewis's essay, "Improvised Music After 1950: Afrological and Eurological Perspectives," which laid out many of the issues he would confront in A Power Stronger Than Itself, shows how John Cage and others who dismissed the potential significance of Jazz in encouraging European, and Euro-American, composers toward improvisation pointed specifically to its idiomatic character. Because Jazz was, in their eyes, merely a genre of popular music, it did not offer true spontaneous improvisation; they claimed the Jazz improvisor already knew what he was going to play by memorizing "licks," an absurd notion for anyone who has actually listened to Lester Young or Charlie Parker, for example. For many in the post-Classical vanguard, the Jazz approach to improvisation was thought to be too ego-driven, too personalized, and also too linear in its apparent narrative, or conversation-like, attributes. Again, this sort of argument collapses in on itself, as those who profess to escape individualism end up making quite an arrogant claim about their own individual capabilities to do so! Here in the Twenty-First Century this mystical-ideological ideal of improvisation, or spontaneity, seems misplaced. Although Lewis rightly sees that the Cage-inspired perspective is based upon "a notion of spontaneity that excludes history or memory," even he appears too willing to accept the notion of an Improvised music that transcends the proclivities of particular combinations of artists.

Any worries, though, quickly fade as we turn to the present day. In the 1990's and the first decade of the Twenty-First Century, a wide array of ensembles (geographically and aesthetically) comparable to the panoply of Collectivists of the late 1960's-early '70's, have put forth a new sort of Collectivism, utilizing the potentials of an improvising ensemble striving to achieve certain ends. Of course, ostensible collectivism—that attained by simply taking on a group moniker—is less striking in the contemporary milieu; within popular music (enjoying a predominance that was still inchoate in the "Sixties") not only do groups take on their own names, but individuals commonly take (multiple) pseudonyms, especially with the rise to prominence of the Rap/ Hip Hop and House-Techno traditions. Nonetheless, the groups I'm about to discuss reside close to the A.A.C.M's variant of Collectivism: first, again, any sort of ideological commitment to improvisation has dissipated; or it has simply become obsolete with so many artists—North American, European, East Asian—creating Improvised music; second, even with general conservative retrenchment in academia, young music artists have enough open-minded music schools and research institutes to turn to, or feel free to reject such support in favor of the vagaries of the marketplace, that rebellion becomes pointless. As suggested at the onset of this essay, the conservative forces don't bother listening anymore. The eclecticism that ensues among these present-day Collectivist groups, then, recalls the broader expanses opened up by Association artists, as well as the social independence they enjoyed (or rather, did not enjoy).

Zeitkratzer transcribe Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music, originally electroacoustic and not notated, to acoustic instruments, but also embark upon an improvised journeys with, for example, Keiji Haino. Excepter use improvisations, mostly with electronic instruments, as a basis for meticulously-edited final albums. Supersilent sport a four-man line-up ostensibly similar to a standard Jazz quartet, but with a significant emphasis on electronics; and having formed because of the impetus of one member-producer, Helge Sten (alias Deathprod); as with Excepter's John Fell Ryan, Sten takes the lead in crafting albums of edited-together recordings, studio and from concerts. Polwechsel serves as a forum for musicians usually working in the individual-grounded Improvised scene to create music that's never merely the sum of its parts, with greater use of electroacoustic textures, slowly-progressing compositional passages, and minimalism (ex-member John Butcher has joined A.M.M, establishing a crucial link to the past). Thuja and other Jewelled Antler projects, often recording outdoors or other environments with unique acoustics, invite their sonic surroundings into the composition, but not by proclaiming their submission to a godhead nature, as Cage did. These are only a few examples of a new Collectivism. Varied artists coming out of Industrial, Noise, and other post-/ anti-Rock scenes also count in this category, and often foreshadowed it, because of their interest in electronics or at least their immersion in a popular-music paradigm wherein the recording occupies the place held by the score (to name a few, The Doo-Dooettes, Zoviet France, Caroliner Rainbow, Ground-Zero, Graveyards). Electronic instruments lack a history to rebel against (such as with the standard instruments of the European tradition, "extended" as they are by Improvising artists, or standard notation, altered or rejected via aleatoric explorations) and also provide barriers to the human's ability to manipulate them in real time, encouraging pre-planning and post-editing. The decline of Collectivism outside the Jazz/ Improvised realm not only coincided with the withering of Vietnam-era radicalism, but also with the lack of continued exploration of live electronics. Voice Crack and The League of Automatic Music Composers were exceptions in the Punk era, when experimentation with electronics seemed bifurcated between academic artists trying to codify and constrain electronic music (following Pierre Boulez) and artists with a popular-music background and an open mind. (Though Sutherland's book reminds us, in both the chapter noted previously and another on "Live Electronics," of groups arising in the late 1970's whose work is not easily available today, such as Sonde, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble, and Morphogenesis.) Toward the end of the 1980's, Günter Müller, combining his drum kit with electronics, helped reignite the once-fruitful relationship between improvisation and electroacoustic music.

That's not to say that many Improvised artists follow his lead, or that electronic instruments, as advanced in their interactive capabilities as they have become, still don't complicate matters for those committed to total improvisation (the "E.A.I" music of Keith Rowe, Sachiko M, Toshimaru Nakamura, et al., provides a running commentary on that issue). Even music which only offers concrète manipulations of acoustic sound places enough distance between the individual artist and the final product to challenge any preference for total improvisation. Electronic sound further forces the musician to think in terms of final results, not present processes. Coming from a Jazz background the causal relationship between electronics and an open-ended, broad-minded musical Collectivism that eschews total improvisation or any sort of prescribed rigidity on the artist's part is not a mystery. On the other side of our historical trajectory, as noted above, the independence of machines helps us to understand that the electroacoustic pioneers do not serve as the foundation of modern music to the same extent as Jazz does. In this regard, the New York School's (and Nyman's) focus on an eternal soundscape already present that the musicians merely tap into suggests a refusal to confront the implications of electroacoustics; thus maybe a dualism does exist between them and the Academic Electroacoustic composers. But such a conjecture is a little harsh. Either way, Jazz-cum-Collectivism—the individual joining others in the creation of a work of art that exists both in the moment and in recorded form—provides the preferred model, regardless of how appealing the "symphony for a man alone" method is for the novice at home in front of his computer screen. Jazz may have been supplanted in the 1960's by a broader popular-music realm, and its participants ultimately have not (the likes of Lewis and Braxton excepted) shown much interest in electronics, but it still came first when it comes to eliminating/ eluding the high-low binary, and as such provided the kernel for the wide-reaching milieu of contemporary experimental/ popular music. Throughout the Twentieth Century, countless artists and critics claimed that music was far behind painting and literature. They cannot make such an argument anymore. Academic and traditional boundaries surely attempt to encroach (as they do in all the arts) but their checkpoints are surmountable. As suggested above, the main problems with contemporary music instead come with the notion that these barriers remain. How intelligent do we imagine the forces of anti-art and anti-intellectualism to be? Do they stand a chance against an art that results from the unlikely pairing of, first, the music of the African diaspora created by slavery and, second, music made by machines?

December 2009