Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

By Gene Hyde

APRIL 3, 2000: 

Equal Interest Equal Interest (OmniTone)

When the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) was formed in 1965 in Chicago, its goal was to help progressive musicians further their creative and professional careers apart from the dictates of record companies or club owners. In short, the AACM encouraged musicians to follow their muses, regardless of commercial constraints. Over the decades, many of the AACM's members have had incredibly productive -- and highly creative -- careers. While the AACM fostered the individual careers of Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Leroy Jenkins, and Joseph Jarman, undoubtedly the most influential and exciting band to emerge from the AACM's wings was the iconoclastic Art Ensemble of Chicago, originally formed by Bowie, Mitchell, Jarman, and Malachi Favors in the late '60s.

Fans of the Art Ensemble are no doubt still in mourning over the death of trumpeter Lester Bowie last November a great loss to jazz. While his passing probably marks the end of the Art Ensemble, the general spirit of the AACM is alive and well. Roscoe Mitchell released the excellent Nine To Get Ready last year, and with this new release of the eponymous debut by the new band Equal Interest, the AACM's experimental focus is happily intact and thriving.

Equal Interest is the trio of Joseph Jarman, Leroy Jenkins, and Myra Melford. While Jarman and Jenkins are card-carrying members of the AACM, Melford claims "Chicagoland" residency, and her playing certainly bears the influence of the AACM.

On this challenging new disc, multi-instrumentalist Jarman plays alto sax, flute, Vietnamese oboe, a Turkish hand drum, and wind chimes. Jenkins adds violin and viola to the mix, and Melford rounds things out with piano and harmonium. All share composing credits.

Influences and stylistic elements emerge and converge, as blues, the avant-garde, jazz, classical, and various world folk musics meet in this engaging hour of music. Jenkins' "B'Pale Night" twists on recurring, jazz-oriented riffs from Jarman and Melford. Jarman's "Rondo for Jenny" features flute and Vietnamese oboe strains laced with south Indian folk music motifs. Melford's "Over This/Living Music" feels like European chamber music, with the piano playing a theme while Jenkins' pizzicato playing forms a foil to a highly focused flute solo from Jarman.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the disc is the serene spirituality, expressed most profoundly in Jarman's "Poem Song," Melford's "The Beauty We Love," and a traditional Armenian dance tune titled "Apricots From Eden." Each possesses a calm center in the midst of several moving improvisations, while bells, violin, harmonium, and flutes provide an exotic folk feel. This spirituality resonates outward from Joseph Jarman, who is a practicing Buddhist priest in Brooklyn, and permeates the overall ambience of the disc. Spirituality and jazz enjoy a long and fruitful relationship (including John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, Pharoah Sanders' Karma, and the Sacred Concerts of Duke Ellington, to name a few examples), and Equal Interest adds another rewarding chapter to this important aspect of jazz's tradition.

A final note about OmniTone: Founded last year in New York by producer Frank Tafuri, OmniTone's short list of records indicates a willingness to allow artists great creative freedom (check them out at www.OmniTone.com). Tafuri was formerly the American publicist for the Italian Black Saint and Soul Note labels, arguably the most progressive jazz labels of the last quarter century. Tafuri brings much of this Italian spirit to his new American label. His goal seems to be to provide musicians with an open platform for experimentation and creativity, the crucial elements in jazz and the mantra of the AACM. This dedication to creativity over commercialism thrives in small labels like OmniTone, Knitting Factory, and a few other independents.

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