|Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM) exemplar, and its southern roots, underlines the creativity of the combos on this disc.
Although only three of the nine players involved are AACM members -- the late trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Alvin Fielder -- the cooperative archetype that the Chicago association feels must be mixed with creative improvised music is on show each time.
In Chicago is another CD that mixes Windy City players with members of the Asian Improv (AI) movement, a musical co-op inspired by the AACM. Old Time Revival, features trumpeter Dennis González, whose organization Daagnim tries for a similar, AACM-like supportive role in the Dallas music scene, exploring the collective southern identity of himself, two AACMers and two saxophonists. The musicians are better-known on this disc, but In Chicago may have a slight edge, with organized arrangements on tap, rather than relying on solo luster as do many of Old Time Revival's tunes.
Case in point is "Centuries," the more-than-12-minute final live cut on the Chicago disc. Purportedly inspired by a traditional rhythm from p'ungmul or Korean folk drumming, it still sounds like jazz, especially when Muhammad, known for his membership in saxophonist Ernest Dawkins' bands, lets loose. Although you could link his brassy triplets to ceremonial heraldic trumpeting, it's likely that no traditional Korean musician on either side of the DMZ exhibits as many bent notes and plunger expositions as this Mississippi-born improviser. Soon he's adding jazz shakes and what could be piccolo-trumpet flourishes to his output. Chicagoan drummer Chad Taylor, who works in different bands featuring AACM guitarist Jeff Parker, offers up rim shots and a quivers from a tambourine lodged on his hi-hat, while carrying the beat on his ride cymbal.
San Francisco-based soprano and tenor saxophonist Jeff Chan, titular leader of the date, begins playing straightahead, but ends up elaborating the theme in split tones, displaying an exaggerated vibrato that advances to double tonguing. In one bow to Orientalism, though, when Chan's line faces counterpoint from Muhammad, the instrument the trumpet chooses to use to reply is a conch shell, which in this context has the timbres of a Korean sho.
Besides South-Asian influences the other leitmotif on the CD is from another son of the South, Fort Worth, Tex.'s Ornette Coleman, with at least two of the tunes resembling the work of the Texas saxophonist's pioneering 1960s quartet. "Bells/Falling," written like all the compositions but one here by Chan, has a definite Coleman-like head, taken andante. Here and on at other places on the CD, the arrangements are held together by the steady bass pulse of Tatsu Aoki. An organizer par excellence, he's the link between AI and the AACM, working as bandleader or sideman with local luminaries like saxists Fred Anderson and Mwata Bowden.
On this disc his work isn't showy, but holds the rhythmic centre, as on this tune, when Chan tries for a stoptime effect sounding out glottal honks, emotional, elongated smears and vibrating reed tones. When Muhammad isn't commenting on Chan's forays with his arsenal of little instruments, which seems to consist of bells, claves and even a tiny steel drum, he creates some of his most profound work. Using grace notes to go up the scale, he slurs out other tones and accentuates the output with hand plunger trills. Taylor keeps up constant pressure on snare top, Aoki walks, and the piece climaxes with brassy blasts from the trumpeter and the saxman trying out chesty variations on the theme.
Composed by another AIer, Francis Wong, with whom Chan plays in the Saxophone Summit, "Persistence of Vision" has a tint of Imperial Chinese processional music about it. With a sandpaper tone vibrations the tenorist advances the theme that is then commented upon by Muhammad. His squealing continuum and Taylor's shimmering ride cymbal, plus ruffs and drags add an African element to the piece. Finally it downshifts before the end, its stately advance marked by deep bass line and guiro-like percussion scratches.