|J A Z Z W O R D R E V I E W S
|Reviews that mention Ameen Muhammad
DENNIS GONZÁLEZ NEW SOUTHERN QUINTET
Old Time Revival
Entropy Stereo Records ESR 014
Asian Improv Records AIR 0063
Chicagos Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) exemplar, and its southern roots, underlines the creativity of the combos on both these discs.
Although only three of the nine players involved are AACM members -- the late trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Alvin Fielder -- the cooperative archetype that the Chicago association feels must be mixed with creative improvised music is on show each time.
IN CHICAGO is another CD that mixes Windy City players with members of the Asian Improv (AI) movement, a musical co-op inspired by the AACM. OLD TIME REVIVAL, features trumpeter Dennis González, whose organization Daagnim tries for a similar, AACM-like supportive role in the Dallas music scene, exploring the collective southern identity of himself, two AACMers and two saxophonists. The musicians are better-known on this disc, but IN CHICAGO may have a slight edge, with organized arrangements on tap, rather than relying on solo luster as do many of OLD TIME REVIVALs tunes.
Case in point is Centuries, the more-than-12-minute final live cut on the Chicago disc. Purportedly inspired by a traditional rhythm from pungmul or Korean folk drumming, it still sounds like jazz, especially when Muhammad, known for his membership in saxophonist Ernest Dawkins bands, lets loose. Although you could link his brassy triplets to ceremonial heraldic trumpeting, its likely that no traditional Korean musician on either side of the DMZ exhibits as many bent notes and plunger expositions as this Mississippi-born improviser. Soon hes adding jazz shakes and what could be piccolo-trumpet flourishes to his output. Chicagoan drummer Chad Taylor, who works in different bands featuring AACM guitarist Jeff Parker, offers up rim shots and a quivers from a tambourine lodged on his hi-hat, while carrying the beat on his ride cymbal.
San Francisco-based soprano and tenor saxophonist Jeff Chan, titular leader of the date, begins playing straightahead, but ends up elaborating the theme in split tones, displaying an exaggerated vibrato that advances to double tonguing. In one bow to Orientalism, though, when Chans line faces counterpoint from Muhammad, the instrument the trumpet chooses to use to reply is a conch shell, which in this context has the timbres of a Korean sho.
Besides South-Asian influences the other leitmotif on the CD is from another son of the South, Fort Worth, Tex.s Ornette Coleman, with at least two of the tunes resembling the work of the Texas saxophonists pioneering 1960s quartet. Bells/Falling, written like all the compositions but one here by Chan, has a definite Coleman-like head, taken andante. Here and on at other places on the CD, the arrangements are held together by the steady bass pulse of Tatsu Aoki. An organizer par excellence, hes the link between AI and the AACM, working as bandleader or sideman with local luminaries like saxists Fred Anderson and Mwata Bowden.
On this disc his work isnt showy, but holds the rhythmic centre, as on this tune, when Chan tries for a stoptime effect sounding out glottal honks, emotional, elongated smears and vibrating reed tones. When Muhammad isnt commenting on Chans forays with his arsenal of little instruments, which seems to consist of bells, claves and even a tiny steel drum, he creates some of his most profound work. Using grace notes to go up the scale, he slurs out other tones and accentuates the output with hand plunger trills. Taylor keeps up constant pressure on snare top, Aoki walks, and the piece climaxes with brassy blasts from the trumpeter and the saxman trying out chesty variations on the theme.
Composed by another AIer, Francis Wong, with whom Chan plays in the Saxophone Summit, Persistence of Vision has a tint of Imperial Chinese processional music about it. With a sandpaper tone vibrations the tenorist advances the theme that is then commented upon by Muhammad. His squealing continuum and Taylors shimmering ride cymbal, plus ruffs and drags add an African element to the piece. Finally it downshifts before the end, its stately advance marked by deep bass line and guiro-like percussion scratches.
Unfortunately, Chans soprano sax work doesnt measure up to his tenor sax playing or composing talents. On most of the tunes such as Sunbeams, his lines, whether legato or staccato, lines appear pretty unsubstantial. This forces the compositions to gain color from Taylors ride cymbal, Aokis time-keeping bass and the scratching, whistles and bird calls [!] from Muhammads little instruments.
In contrast there is plenty of multi-faceted reed playing exhibited on OLD TIME REVIVAL. New Orleans resident Tim Green weighs in with his saxello, tenor and bass saxophones, while North Carolina-born, New York dweller Andrew Lamb brings his tenor saxophone. Rhythm section is made up of Malachi Favors, who since he left Lexington, Miss. many years ago has made his reputation with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the Ritual Trio and numerous other bands in Chicago. Drummer Alvin Fielder, who is also a pharmacist, spent only a few years in Chicago in the 1960s, though he did participate in many AACM sessions. Back in Jackson, Miss., hes involved with most creative music ventures in the Deep South, usually involving AACM members, González and New Orleans saxist Kidd Jordan.
On this date, González, who is also a schoolteacher and a visual artist, appears to be so buoyed by the presence of so many exceptional musicians that he lets them solo to their hearts content. But a string of solos is only impressive in certain situations, as on the title track.
A fast, vamping blues based on an infectious line driven by the bass and drums, the composition begins with a trilling, irregular cadenza from Greens saxello, as the other horns riff in the background. His speedy solo is followed by strident triplets from González riding on the relentless rhythm of Fielder and Favors. Open-horned, the trumpeter then seems to be quoting spirituals, proving a gritty commentary on what he played previously. Then, as the horn riffing gets faster and faster until the end, a tenor saxist -- likely Lamb -- sounds out gospelly glossolalia, scooting up the scale and introducing multiphonic feints.
Hymn for Albert Ayler, Gonzálezs devotional piece written for a man who definitely knew his old time religion, features intimations of Go Down Moses in the trumpet solo. Slurred affirmation comes from one of the tenormen and powerful bass strokes amplify this. Soon the tenorist -- Lamb? -- expels an undulating Ayler-like cry, all guttural split tones, but with not as wide a vibrato as the deceased saxist exhibited. As the trumpeter tongues out an euphonious rubato trumpet solo thats closer to Coleman associate Don Cherry than anything Don Ayler ever played, Greens saxello produces sweeping bagpipe-like nasal, buzzing timbres. Propelled forward by the bassist and drummer, the piece ends with the brassman easing into gospel shouts again.
Greens subterranean bass saxophone tones and Fielders bass drum toe pedal whacks personalize Hordes of the Morning Star. Although at first you can almost hear the pedals hard felt making contact with the drum skin, the versatile veteran is soon breaking up the beat with shuffles, ruffs and drags. Green doesnt just use his dinosaur horn for low down effects either. Once he gets started he pumps out a variation on the theme, using false fingering and split tones to leap in tempo and introduce split-second, soaring screeches among the reverberating bass honks. While all this is going on, Lamb creates a vibrated tenor saxophone line touching on multiphonics, and Gonzálezs solo, studded with grace notes, is heavy on the Spanish tinge. Rat-tat-tats from Fielders snare bring everything together for a unison horn exit.
Perhaps the most complicated tune is written by Fielder, who like all the players except Lamb is a longtime associate of the trumpeter. His Four Moods for Carol appears to feature four-curlicue themes going at the same time. With the bass sax creating a snorting pedal point, the tenor contributes an irregular vibrato and the trumpeter blasts out a mellow chromatic line. Fielder then underscores the proceedings with oscillations from blustering wind chimes, log drum beats, the shimmers of a bell tree and the whistling draughts of an African whirl drum. Those percussion accessories may only be approximated, but he certainly internalized the AACMs skill with little instruments.
Favors expresses himself in a focused, single-note, thumping bass solo, while one saxist varies from reed-biting, echoing extra tones to forcing pure, colored air through his horns body tube. After a clatter of rim shots, the composer creates a coda of marital bass drum beats and snare ratamacues.
Surprisingly, one of Gonzálezs longtime associates, isnt present . But tenor saxophonist Charles Brackeen, is honored on Document for Charles Brackeen, a freeboppish line that features both reedists on tenor saxophone. One creates a double-time, slurred line that turn to emphasized screams, while the other enters with a sobbing portamento pattern that expands until split reed overtones make it more angrily staccato. One would expect Brackeen was capable of both of these techniques, as well as an innate soulfulness that explodes in the later part of the piece when Favors suddenly exposes a funky bass line that could underpin Ray Charles Whatd I Say.
Listening to it and the other tunes on OLD TIME REVIVAL give you the feeling that at least where jazz/improv is concerned, the South will rise again.
Now all González has to do is to head into the studio with more focused arrangements to likely produce a session thats not only very good, but as outstanding as IN CHICAGO.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Chicago: 1. Round and Round 2. Persistence of Vision 3. Sunbeams 4. Bells/Falling 5. Waiting 6. Twilight 7. Waiting (reprise) 8. Centuries
Personnel: Chicago: Ameen Muhammad (trumpet, conch shell and small percussion instruments); Jeff Chan (soprano and tenor saxophones); Tatsu Aoki (bass); Chad Taylor (percussion)
Track Listing: Old: 1. The Matter at Hand 2. Document for Charles Brackeen 3. Hordes of the Morning Star 4. Hymn for Albert Ayler 5. Four Moods for Carol 6. Old Time Revival
Personnel: Old: Dennis González (C, Bb, pocket trumpets); Andrew Lamb (tenor saxophone); Tim Green (saxello, tenor and bass saxophones); Malachi Favors (bass); Alvin Fielder (drums)
November 3, 2003
Oh, My Dog
MYUMI PROJECT BIG BAND
Rooted: Origins of Now
Southport/Asian Improv S-SSD 0092
Performing with a mid-sized band of improvisers is widespread because it provides freedom both for the composer(s) and the players. Nine plus instruments often provide enough variations to illustrate a writers vision; and with fewer than 12 bandmates, musicians can contribute much more than if theyre mere section placeholders.
Small big bands can also be used to express radically different concepts as these skilled CDs demonstrate. Together for almost 30 years, the Dutch ICP Orchestra has featured many different soloists over time, but with laissez faire direction coming from pianist/composer Misha Mengelberg, theres a consistency there. Tatsu Aokis Myumi Project, on the other hand, is mostly a recording ensemble, put together to give flesh to the bassist/composers musical portraits of Asian American improvisers in particular and Asians in North America in general.
One of the reasons the ICP has lasted so long is Mengelbergs anarchistic view of music and refusal to assert himself as leader except by example, a strategy Duke Ellington operated with as well. Then again you wonder if Duke would have had as his closest associates and longest lasting member of the band someone like drummer Han Bennink, who often plays too loudly and seems to relish upsetting regular routines.
OH MY DOG is unique, however because its one rare instance where Bennink is forced into a secondary role. Thats because among the many exceptional soloists who now make up the ICP is cellist Tristan Honsinger. A longtime expatriate American who has cycled through the band before, not only is the cellist responsible for the linked compositions that make up the back half of the CD, but between his wild string forays -- arco and pizzicato -- and vocalizations, he makes the usually conspicuous drummer become just another one of his straightmen -- and woman.
Beginning with Oh my Deer! and compressing five tracks into a sort of mini-suite, the cellist has the band referencing many countries, styles and musical history. The first tune, for instance starts off with some laughing Classic Jazz trombone smears courtesy of Wolter Wierbos, with the sprightly melody advanced by Honsinger and violinist Mary Oliver sounding as if its being played by The New Orleans Ragtime Orchestra. Its probably versatile Ab Baars who produces the Johnny Dodds-style clarinet lines here, while Bennink reveals his inner Baby Dodds as a two-beat specialist.
A romp between Wierbos and trumpeter Thomas Heberer runs the tune right into the next that features the cellist slicing sounds out of his strings, Satchmo-high brassy notes from the trumpeter and discordant wails from the horn section. Reconstituting the ensemble as a marching band on Out back/Chickadee, Honsinger interrupts the musicians with a chorus of whistling and growls. This, in turn introduces Sparking, that seems unable to make up its mind whether its a cha cha or a mazurka. Oliver bends enough notes to send them bouncing all over the place, while Bennink indulges himself in rim shots and the trumpeter appears to presage a bullfight.
All this attains its head in the title tune where the scraped strings play one melody bisected by that pseudo marching band ensemble puffing out La Marseilles or perhaps its cousin, Ghosts. Following nonsense curses -- in Italian? -- in Dutch? -- someone replicates the sound of a dog barking as Honsinger tells the story of walking through the woods, unsure of what animal he sees. Is it oh my deer or oh my dog?
That a performance like this fits right into the CD program without an eyebrow being raised shows just what Mengelberg has created with the ICP. Various band members take on different persona during the rest of the CD, with the most impressive exhibitions of polyphonic pandemonium appearing on two group instant compositions: Travel Agent and the nearly 15½-minute climax, Happy dreams.
On the former, it almost appears as if the band is warming up, until Ernst Glerums bowed bass and fiddle intimations from Oliver lead the pianist to express himself in full Cecil Taylor keyboard-punishing mode. Vocal cries and slurred whoops from Baarss tenor cant disguise the romantic theme, which flirts with modified waltz time. As always, Bennink is banging away as if hes a little boy trying to get past a locked door, Heberer slurps out some sweet Harry James-like tones and Michael Moore provides a fruity, Earl Bostic style alto solo.
Happy dreams, on the other hand, is all plucks, purrs, growls, trills, whines and toots. The strings play staccatissimo, the trombone and saxophones pump out bent notes and switch in and out of movie matinee-style accompaniment, Mengelberg turns to low intensity playing, creating overtones so supine that even the dampers buzz. Duetting with Bennink, who shakes gong and bell tones from his kit, the pianist counters with cascading single notes and a final Chopinesque cadenza.
If OH, MY DOG is disorderly, then ROOTED is just the opposite, depending as it does on one mans -- Tatsu Aokis -- compositional conception. Japanese-born, but a resident of Chicago for nearly half his life, Aoki has established longtime playing situations with such Association for the Advancement of Creative Music as drummer Famadou Don Moye, tenor saxophonist Fred Anderson and baritone saxophonist Mwata Bowden, the last of whom is featured on this disc.
More catholic than ICP projects, this and other Asianimprov projects mix Oriental and Afro-American roots sounds with new ones created when these cultures melt into one another in North America.
Throughout, Aoki uses, and with three others plays, traditional taiko drums, using its ritualistic sound as a continuum. As early as Part One: Now, though the sound is interrupted by floating trumpet lines from the late Ameen Muhammad, best known for his association with Ernest Dawkins bands, and rhythmic swing from saxophonists Taku Akiyama and Toru Hironaka. Bowdens Aboriginal digeridoo soon adds a sound distinct from all others, eventually adding to the undercurrent as drums turn to jazz time and the sax and trumpet combine for boppish swing.
Elsewhere, as on Part Three: 1.5 Generation, a generic Asian pantatonic scale played by taku or rei bells, gives way to unvarying bass work from Hiroshi Eguchi that reconstitutes the tune as a funky foot tapper. Muhammad gracefully bends notes, Bowden honks out some gritty asides and drummer Mia Park lays on the rock-like rhythm. As the saxman and hornman continue to trade slurred, irregular tones, the unvarying taiko-led percussion beat begins to resemble that of Native American music, and violinist Jonathan Chen adds some electric manipulation.
By the same logic, while Chens violin intro on Part Two; Origin is based on traditional Chinese music, the result sounds almost Eastern European. The following, highly rhythmic bass solo has the delicacy of a kayagum, but the strength of Oscar Pettifords lines. Saxophone expositions chase each other though the piece over a walking bass line, followed by another digeridoo interlude. Wadaiko or Japanese percussion allusions arise from the massed drummers as one bassist -- Aoki likely -- produces bottleneck guitar like pulses. Finally the whole thing ends on an elongated digeridoo tone.
By the time Part Four: ... of Now, As Well arrives, youre so used to the musical disconnect, that when Yoko Noge, who is a Chicago-based blues vocalist, sings the traditional Jongara Buchi in Japanese backed by additional violin, cello and taiko accompaniment, it doesnt sound strange at all. Soon the irregular beat turns to steady jazz time and the horn section begins passing a riff around. Muhammad has a fine, brassy solo as the consolidated percussion put you in mind of primitive washboard bands at times and sophisticated mega-kit rockers at others. Before the tune ended with accelerated percussion rhythm, a disco whistle has been blown, a baritone line has snaked through the proceedings and theres been a slap-bass break and suggestions of arco filigree.
Small big bands, big ideas: Aoki and Mengelberg easily show what can be done with the right musical ideas -- and right sidepeople -- on these CDs.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: Dog: 1. Write down exactly 2. A close encounter with Charles's Country Band 3. Precise dimensions and weight 4. A la Russe 5. Travel agent 6. Ham on air 7. Hand and checked luggage 8. Oh my Deer! 9. Wild turkey 10. Out back/Chickadee 11. Sparkling 12. Oh my dog! 13. Happy dreams
Personnel: Dog: Thomas Heberer (trumpet); Wolter Wierbos (trombone); Ab Baars (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Michael Moore (clarinet, alto saxophone); Mary Oliver (violin and viola); Tristan Honsinger (cello); Misha Mengelberg (piano); Ernst Glerum (bass); Han Bennink (drums)
Track Listing: Rooted: 1. Part One: Now 2. Part Two: Origin+ 3. Part Three: 1.5 Generation 4. Part Four: ... of Now, As Well* 5. Origin: Chamber Version+
Personnel: Rooted: Ameen Muhammad (trumpet, percussion); Taku Akiyama (alto saxophone); Toru Hironaka (tenor saxophone); Mwata Bowden (baritone saxophone, digeridoo); Jonathan Chen (violin, electronics); Tomoko Hayashida (cello*); Satoru Iga (bass*); Hiroshi Eguchi (bass); Tatsu Aoki (bass+, taiko); Ryan Toguri, Hide Yoshihashi and Jason Matsumoto (taiko drums); Mia Park (drums); Yoko Noge (vocal)
June 30, 2003
ERNEST DAWKINS NEW HORIZONS ENSEMBLE
Cape Town Shuffle
Rollicking as only a live date by saxophonist Ernest Dawkins ensemble could be, the happy grooves established by the five Chicago musicians here are tempered by an incident that happened six months later. Trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, Dawkins closest confrere, who had been part of the New Horizons Ensemble from its beginnings, died at 48 in February, of apparent heart failure.
Luckily there are plenty of examples of Muhammads literally larger-than-life character on the four long tracks that make up CAPE TOWN SHUFFLE. What the audience at Hothouse saw in August 2002, and we hear on the disc is a portrait of a broad-chested brassman who had the power to twist his trumpet lines every which way to do his bidding, whether he was playing the blues or exploring the stratosphere.
Take Dolphy and the Monk Dance, a composition like all the others by Dawkins. It stays true to the ancient-to-future ethos of the venerable Association of the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM), which counts all the bandsmen among its members. A melodic 12-tone row, its dedicated to tenor saxist Vandy Harris, another AACM member, who like Dawkins has worked with percussionist Kahil ElZabar. The composition uses elastic, repetitive rhythms to show how the advances of Monk and Dolphy fit right into the community.
Playing chromatically straighter and smoother on alto then Dolphy ever did, the sax man still studs his solo with trilling and flutter tonguing like Dolphy, though, probably owning to his more extensive travelling, he has more of a Caribbean lilt when running the changes. Leavening the extended techniques is trumpeter Muhammad, who was a Mississippi native. Muhammad comes out with a burst of ricocheting triplets, reminiscent of the work of Memphis Booker Little, who was Dolphys most famous playing partner. Soon the trumpet man is spraying whole phrases in screech range, the way Cat Anderson, another Southerner did, and then holding extended notes over the shifting rhythms of the others as Louis Armstrong would. After the horns trade fours, bassist Darius Savage, who often plays with AACM flautist Nicole Mitchell, and drummer Avreeayl Ra, who has recorded with both Mitchell and tenor man Ari Brown, combine for some slinky time changes that suggest Monk. Everyone joins in for a freebop coda that reintroduces the head.
This community attachment -- a constant theme of the trumpeter, who worked with student musical groups -- is reiterated on Third Line and the Cape Town Shuffle albeit mixed with the bands growing internationalism. Almost 20 minutes long, its Dawkins linkage of the New Orleans marching band/Mardi Gras tradition and the feel of certain South African fêtes, especially Cape Towns Carnival. Buoyed by slurring split tones from the alto saxophone and more cowbell rhythms that have been heard in a jazz club in Chicago since the heyday of Baby Dodds, here, as elsewhere, Steve Berry, whose trombone is also prominent in trumpet Malachi Thompsons ensembles, comes out with some smeary, blues-influenced positions, assuaged by micro-quick quoted snatches of jazz standards. With the other horns riffing in the background Muhammad then reveals the theatrical part of his persona. As the others moan like his congregation, the trumpet semi-seriously converts himself into a Pentecostal preacher, rapping on the theme of freedom and calling for Amens. Midway between the sermonizing of Jessie Jackson and the pseudo deacon-act of Louis Armstrong, the solo concludes with Muhammad blasting a few sets of triplets into the air, which bring forth the compositions gospel-like theme. Growling from his valves, Muhammad brings back the Crescent City Second Line feel, amplified by a rapid, bombastic drum solo, and which is followed by a Mingusian bass solo and unison amplification from the horns.
Mingus shadow looms over Toucouleur, as well. Featuring Dawkins only extended tenor saxophone honking foray and little instruments like tin whistles and kazoos that join with a beat derived from the Toucouleur tribe of Senegal. Berrys solo features chromatic elevations, while Muhammads is triple forte and triple tongued, showing off his breath control.
Hard bop slides and trills, shaking over the R&B-derived beat of Jazz to Hip Hop characterize the trumpeters work on the last tune. Rapper Kahari B. vocally expressing the appeal of black music, is very much in a 1970s Nationalist groove, though for all his exhortations about the musical color of revolution the most impressive parts of this toe-tapping, finger-snapping tune are the instrumental riffs and solo behind and around him.
As good a laser replication of a go-getting New Horizons Ensemble performance as you can imagine, despite a few lapses, this CD serves as a fitting memorial to the trumpeter whose name meant one who strives for honesty. But it leaves unanswered how well the band is going to function now that Muhammads oversized personality and football player bulk has left the building.
-- Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Toucouleur 2. Third Line and the Cape Town Shuffle 3. Dolphy and the Monk Dance 4.Jazz to Hip Hop*
Personnel: Distance: Ameen Muhammad (trumpet); Steve Berry (trombone); Ernest Dawkins (alto saxophone and tenor saxophones); Darius Savage (bass); Avreeayl Ra (drums); Kahari B. (poetry)*
June 3, 2003