BY MICHAEL TOLAND
Though issued under organizer Jack DeJohnette’s name, #Made in Chicago# is actually a reunion of some of the most important names in the pioneering AACM. Founded in Chicago in 1965 by pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music pushed jazz in new, vibrant and aggressively improvisatory directions, putting a spotlight on emerging and influential talent like DeJohnette and hornmen Roscoe Mitchell and Henry Threadgill. The three were also veterans of Abrams’ Experimental Band, as well as classmates at the Southside institution Wilson Junior College, and the trio comes back together with their old mentor and bassist/cellist Larry Gray for a program of fiercely energetic jazz recorded live at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013.
The opening salvo “Chant” sets the scene. DeJohnette rattles over his toms, keeping time while seemingly bashing away with abandon. Abrams provides massive blocks of chords, constructing a thick edifice over which Mitchell and Threadgill’s winding saxophones lock horns. Gray acts as the anchor keeping the ship upright in the roiling storm. It’s nearly free jazz but not quite, with just enough structure imposed to keep the piece from descending into anarchy. “Jack 5” brings the boil back down to a simmer, as DeJohnette concentrates on shimmering cymbal work, Abrams lays back except for a few precisely placed runs, Mitchell and Threadgill add playful bleats at regular intervals and Gray brings it home with a short but poignant solo.
“This,” with Mitchell and Threadgill swirling around each other on flute and recorder, continues the tonal theme for another slice of itchy ambience. “Museum of Time” energizes the rhythms while keeping the freneticism toned down, as flute and sax duet over skittering cymbals and Abrams’ melodic comping. Bringing the main program to a close, “Leave Don’t Go Away” revs up the motor once again, driven in the direction of post-bop by Abrams and DeJohnette, though the saxists do their best to upend the apple cart.
The cart shatters and fruit scatters everywhere on the final selection “Ten Minutes,” a collective free improvisation that lasts a mere three and a half and brings the show full circle. To say this performance by musicians who are influential headliners in their own right is powerful is an understatement. That it’s far more than just avant-garde elder statesmen blowing for kicks is the true delight.
DOWNLOAD: “Chant,” “Leave Don’t Go Away,” “Jack 5”