By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
The last time I checked in on the war between jazz traditionalists and jazz innovators (which was a few weeks ago in a Midwest alternative newsweekly), trumpeter Lester Bowie was wondering aloud to an interviewer whether or not fellow trumpeter Wynton Marsalis--an outspoken critic of the free jazz movement Bowie helped forge--was "retarded." So yes, the conflict shows no signs of abating. But in trying to reestablish the value of formal experimentation in these conservative jazz times, music would seem a more effective tool than name-calling. The recent CD reissues of some of the earliest works of artists involved with Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) are thus welcome documents that do much to reclaim a crucial chapter in the history of jazz.
On Sounds, recorded in 1966, the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet includes Bowie and Malachi Favors (a trio that would become half of the Art Ensemble of Chicago) along with tenor Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre, drummer Alvin Fielder, and cellist/trombonist Lester Lashley. This is jazz that anticipates the AEOC's playfulness, and seems to speak specifically from the Midwest--wide open expanses of silence, long rushes into dark and empty nights, short spates of joyous interplay punctuating lonely, relentlessly searching solo lines. In addition to the two long title pieces, there are two takes of a number called "Ornette," where the group runs through a vamp recalling the tune's namesake before pushing into new territory. It's a rare but telling glimpse at the roots of a revolution.
Pianist Muhal Richard Abrams's 1969 Young At Heart/Wise In Time features two long compositions, the first a solo which begins inside the piano, the player strumming out small clusters of notes that give way to tentative chords, a progression from the amorphousness of birth to first steps, then cocky swaggers and lustful swoons. The second piece features a young Henry Threadgill alternately riding and shredding melodies, spinning his alto around an elusive center alongside trumpeter Leo Smith, percussionist Thurman Barker, and the versatile Lashley on bass. Here the solitary youth becomes a social elder--a corollary to Abrams's evolution as soloist, bandleader, and AACM figurehead. It's music of great beauty and power, approachable and inviting, impassioned and exciting. Now that these recordings are back in print, here's hoping some of the army of young suits with horns who constitute our modern jazz world spend some time with this portion of their music's history. The scene would certainly be richer for it. (Delmark Records, 4121 N. Rockwell, Chicago, IL, 60618; (312) 222-1467) (Will Hermes)
The Keith Haring Journals
On a recent visit to Greenwich Village, walking past Keith Haring's "Pop Shop" boutique, I could only sigh at the cashier, the only human being in the store, flipping wearily through a magazine.
At first glance, Haring seems such a quintessentially '80s artist that his legacy feels stunted only six years after his death from AIDS. Are those half-hearted new Dodge ads featuring Haring's famous figures the limit of his influence? Where's the visually enticing biopic a la Basquiat? Will his crawling-baby hieroglyphics inspire a new wave of Pop art or remain a capitalistic stamp of '80s mass consumerism?
The Keith Haring Journals may not answer these questions, but it does offer insight into what drove the late artist. Unlike the posthumously-printed diaries of Andy Warhol (one of his mentors), Haring's pages eschew making detailed nightly records of cab fares and who's screwing whom. The Journals's contents are looser, more emotional and raw than Warhol's glossy, repetitive artwork and lifestyle. It begins with Haring as a naive 19-year-old Deadhead hitchhiking across the U.S. selling T-shirts. Starry-eyed and spouting newfound artistic manifestos, he moves to New York for art school and finds inspiration in the movements and rhythms of breakdancing and electrofunk, street graffiti, and the emerging video art explosion.
Even while observing first-hand his sudden popularity and subsequent international gallery exhibitions, product endorsements, and such, Haring remains startlingly level-headed, honest, and green. The entries document his sketch ideas and self-criticism (as well as critiques of other artists), his travel, and nightlife exploits. Something as potentially pretentious as a four-page, self-described "Big Chunk of Poetry" (a stream-of-consciousness, 'Happiness is... ' kind of thing) comes off as touching, revealing, and real. Haring's desire for more bridges between the elitist gallery world and everyday enjoyment of art is apparent in his passion for outdoor sculpture and public murals; perhaps this is the underappreciated legacy that his journals expose. (Matt Keppel)
Rebel Without A Crew
Maybe I'm a softy, but I wept at the end of Hearts of Darkness, that great documentary about the hell Francis Ford Coppola went through to make Apocalypse Now. After grappling with his own artistic limits for two hours, Coppola told the camera that the great film directors of tomorrow would be the kids running around their backyards with camcorders. Robert Rodriguez, the 28-year-old director of this year's slumber-party smash From Dusk Till Dawn, is very much that kid with a camcorder now grown up, and the point he makes in Rebel Without a Crew, his breezy self-help manual for beginning filmmakers, is different from Coppola's: "everyone has at least a dozen or so bad movies in them; the sooner you get them out the better."