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CD Review: AACM Great Black Music Ensemble Live at The Currency Exchange, Volume 1

By Hrayr Attarian

Ernest Dawkins - Alto & soprano sax

Maggie Brown - Vocals

Saalik Ziyad - Keys, effects & vocals

Taalib-Din Ziyad - Flute & vocals

Art Turk Burton - Congas

Micah Collier - Bass

Jeremiah Collier- Trap drums

Jerome Croswell- Trumpet

Ben Lamar Gay - Cornet

Ed House - Tenor sax

Adam Zanolini - Soprano sax & flute.

Over more than half a century since its inception, the Association for Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) continues to grow and evolve as fresh new voices join its ranks. Its core elements of freedom of expression and strong spirituality remain constant. Both are well demonstrated on the multigenerational live concert captured on the thrilling Live at The Currency Exchange Volume 1.

AACM veteran, composer and saxophonist Ernest Khabeer Dawkins leads the eleven-piece band dubbed the AACM Great Black Music Ensemble on this spontaneously created set from January 7th 2018.

The album opens on a high note with the passionate and soulful “Ancient To The Future Power, Stronger Than Itself”. Vocalist Maggie Brown alternates between singing and spoken word as she muses dramatically on the origin and nature of black music as well as history, the future and time itself. Sparse percussion creates a haunting backdrop punctuated by male wordless chanting. The woodwinds and horn undulate with Brown’s phrases like an echo. Gradually the piece becomes more energetic as the horns wail in symphonic refrains with touches of delightful dissonance.

Speaking of dissonance, the exuberant, free flowing “Way Out East” is poignant and electrifying with its overlapping atonal honks, beats and fiery phrases. It, nevertheless, is cohesive with an internal logic to the group’s collective stream of consciousness improvisation. Drummer Jeremiah Collier’s agile polyrhythms drive the tune as his bandmates contribute intense and furious lines.

The cinematic “Peace” features Ben Lamar Gay’s lone melancholic cornet over rustles and expectant thrums and thuds. The emotive, hypnotic and vibrant solo is far from tranquil and more a cry or a plea for pacifism. This motif continues with a twittering flute and congas dialogue on “In The” with a sonic drone fading in an out of the tense and dark ambience.

The record concludes with the somber and ethereal “Bells”. A contemplative and abstract piece made up entirely of tolls and chimes and silent pauses. It makes for a perfect closure for this intellectually stimulating and viscerally moving work. With artists like Dawkins at the helm and the immense talent of its members AACM thrives as the guardian of this living and breathing music.

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