Entering Ankhrasmation: Wadada Leo Smith at The New Quorum in New Orleans

photos by Larry Blumenfeld, using Jonathan Freilich's excellent camera
Wadada Leo Smith leading a workshop performance at The New Quorum/ cellist: Helen Gillet/ photos by Larry Blumenfeld, using Jonathan Freilich’s excellent camera

In January, I got the chance to return to New Orleans for a focused period of writing and reflection, courtesy of The New Quorum, where I was writer-in-residence within an inaugural residency class. Having unpacked my clothes, I’m now unpacking my notes, interviews and conversations. Here’s the first of a series of posts drawn from that experience.
The New Quorum is an artist residency organization founded and directed by Gianna Chachere, and dedicated to bringing professional musicians and writers from across the globe to New Orleans for meaningful cultural exchange with local and regional artists.
If you’re a musician or writer interested in such an opportunity, now’s the time to go here: Applications for Spring residencies (May 16-June 13) are accepted through March 4.
If you’d lend financial or volunteer support go here now: This innovative program deserves such nurturing.
The night after I settled into my temporary and lovely home on Esplanade Avenue, the living room Christmas tree, which was still up, was dotted with sheet music. This was the first of four workshops for musicians led by composer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, followed by an informal house concerts as part of his January residency.
Smith’s music, which is both singular and part of an influential movement connected to Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), demands improvisatory spirit. And, well, those Christmas tree branches worked just fine as music stands.
The music itself was anything but ornamental. Smith’s work employs “rhythm units” and is expressed on paper through “Ankhrasmation.” Smith uses this neologism—formed of “Ankh,” the Egyptian symbol for life, “Ras,” the Ethiopian word for leader, and “Ma”, a universal term for mother­­—to denote the systemic musical language he has developed over nearly 50 years for, he says, “scoring sound, rhythm and silence, or for scoring improvisation.” Continue reading “Entering Ankhrasmation: Wadada Leo Smith at The New Quorum in New Orleans”

Listening to the Women of Chicago's AACM

The Voices Heard! ensemble performing at the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s Made in Chicago Festival in Poznan, Poland: (l-r.) Ann Ward, Coco Elysses, Nicole Mitchell, Dee Alexander, Tomeka Reid, Renee Baker/ photo: Lauren Deutsch

I can’t think of a better way for the Jazz Institute of Chicago to wrap up a year of programming highlighting the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) than with a free concert on Dec. 11 by the Voices Heard! ensemble. The event gathers women who have made significant contributions to the AACM and whose musicianship has been marked by the AACM’s influence: vocalist Dee Alexander, pianist and singer Ann Ward, flutist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, violinist Renee Baker, and percussionist, singer and songwriter Coco Elysses.
The promotional headline reads:
Empowering Women, Spanning Generations: The Women of the AACM Unite!
It celebrates an aspect of AACM’s legacy that deserves attention beyond Chicago.
Earlier this year, while researching a Wall Street Journal piece celebrating the AACM anniversary, I spoke at length with Mitchell, a perennial poll-topper as flutist and a real visionary as a composer and the leader of several groups (her Black Earth Ensemble performs at the Chicago event). Currently also Professor of Music at the University of California, Irvine, Mitchell arrived in Chicago in 1990, where she began playing music on the streets. She was drawn to the AACM, eventually serving as its first female president, from 2009-2011.
Here are some excerpts from our conversation: Continue reading “Listening to the Women of Chicago's AACM”