The passing of Muhal Richard Abrams is another one of those somber events that took me a while to process.
I have so many thoughts.
So many emotions, wrapped around memories.
Abrams’ music helped to secure my love for the avant-garde side of Jazz music.
Unlike some of you, I didn’t come out of the womb feening for Coltrane, countermelodies and abstract scales.
I grew up listening to every genre of music, with jazz being one of them.
My initial Jazz feedings came from the household, where I mostly heard Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie and Ben Webster.
All good stuff, but nothing exactly out there, if you know what I mean.
It wasn’t until my first listen to Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch album where my appetite for jazz began to widen.
Sure, Miles and Dizzy will always be Bad Mutha in my book.
But I also began to search for the wild stuff. Or at least a wilder variety.
And then came Abrams, in the form of “Peace on You” from his Afrisong album.
You have to be patient with me as I reminisce through a path of comparisons that may seem ridiculous today. Back then, I had no other basis for reference.
Abrams’ beautiful piano phrasing in “Peace on You” had the thoughtful soliloquy I would typically attribute to a Bill Evans piece.
That’s Evans, the pianist; not the reeds cat.
The avant-garde addiction was firmly nested in my veins after I heard Abrams’ “March of the Transients” piece. He demonstrated the chordal articulation I would normally hear on a Keith Jarrett tune, combined with lightning Cecil Taylor-like chord changes — sans the pounding.
I needed more Abrams, and found him in the album Levels and Degrees of Light.
I can’t tell you how many times I played that album, especially “The Bird Song.”
Aside from the superior musicianship, the most arresting part about all my first impressions was the way Abrams never once sounded exactly like any of those cats I just mentioned. He clearly had his own style.
And that style constantly changed.
I began to understand that Abram’s style was a natural sense of self-catalytic creation — to constantly evolve while acting on the experiences and people in his life as if they were substrates.
Think about how few artists would even consider doing something like that in 2017, where aural and visual branding have become lifelines in their way of creating familiar connections with audiences, not to mention the artists’ own limitations to changing or growing.
Abrams left clear evidence of this “evolve” manifesto through his collaborations with artists who I would eventually listen to and revere later in life.
Like the Diasporic meditations of Malachi Favors.
The sharply abstract assault of Anthony Braxton.
The chordal call-and-response musical poetry of Leroy Jenkins.
The soulfully Gospel incantations of Amina Claudine Myers.
Speaking of Myers, I think this duet with Abrams will floor you.
My personal discovery continued by understanding Abrams’ role and influence as one of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians’ (AACM) co-founders.
And that immediately led to my understanding of Abrams the composer, who created exquisitely-layered songs to be played in solo, duet, orchestra or any other setting. The emotional dynamic range of his music easily accommodated the varied styles of its performers, with each song remaining a unique and beautiful whole.
Abrams’ furious transformations continued through his later years, and has inspired new generations of brilliant musicians and other creatives.
Rest in Love, Muhal. And thank you for driving much of my personal creative transformation …