Homework: Muhal Richard Abrams

As Destination: Out so aptly implies, it’s always time to celebrate the living jazz masters. The message gets emphasized when someone like Bill Dixon leaves us, or someone like Fred Anderson falls ill.

Muhal Richard Abrams gets a turn in the spotlight tonight, as a featured artist at NYC’s Vision Festival and recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award. Someday I’ll splurge and take the trip out there for the festival, but for now… I figure I’ll do my part by digging into Abrams’ catalog and sending appreciative thoughts into the ether.

I’m starting with Saying Something for All (Just a Memory, 1998), recorded in 1977 at New York’s The Environ.  It’s a duo album with Hamiet Bluiett, and the title-track improvisation shows them off at their stormy, blustery best. I think there’s even a part where Abrams takes a boogie-woogie turn on piano, a fun touch.

Much of the album, though, is devoted to compositions, including two of Abrams’ to start things off. “Dual Reflections” isn’t the slow, pretty track I’d envisioned. It starts pensively but at a quick jog of a pace, eventually getting into spiky improvising.

The fast and loud stuff is exciting, of course, but as Greg Osby so aptly puts it, one has to appreciate the quieter, delicate side of the music, too. (See Music and More.) The Bluiett album alctually puts some of that element front-and-center, with the opening “Nightdreams for Daytime Viewing,” which puts some slow, reflective playing near the end, just before wrapping up with a short, spiraling riff.

Destination: Out also points to a Jason Moran piece for Jazz.com, where he lists some essential Abrams tracks.  I already have 1-Oqa+19, which kicks off with the tricky, convoluted jazz of “Charlie in the Parker.”  I’ll also have to check out Sightsong, which lands on Moran’s list a couple of times.  (Luckily, the classic Black Saint/Soul Note catalog is available on eMusic, keeping alive a trove of vital ’70s and ’80s jazz work.)

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