Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future

The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians has long used that line to describe their music: “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future” and their membership has, over the years, included people who I’d say deserve that appelation: music I hope is remembered, is fundamental to the interesting things that come in the future of innovative, intelligent music.

But for the latter half of the phrase, “ancient to the future,” it’s always brought to mind Steve Coleman’s music. Coleman is a badass alto saxophonist, as you can see in this clip:

… and with his various groups over the years he’s done something that’s very hard, which is to fuse the kind of technical virtuosity, freedom and wildness of “free jazz” with innovations from funk and other popular (African-)American music, more roots from West African music, all served up with the deadly hipness of the now.

It always seemed to me that this was the kind of jazz that would be listened to on spaceships headed for the outer regions, or, maybe, this would be the earliest examples of the nascent form of improvised music that posthumans would dig out of the datavaults when constructing polymetathreaded musical improvisations that can only be properly experienced by a fully digitized mind.

And today’s your lucky day, if you’ve never listened to Coleman’s music: he’s got a bunch of out-of-print albums available for free download on his website, here, along with samples from albums still in print.

My personal favorite is Tao of a Mad Phat (fringe zones), which I very highly recommend.

3 thoughts on “Great Black Music, Ancient to the Future

  1. The Nihilist Spasm Band is just SO not my thing, but Peter Brotzmann is okay sometimes, as are some of his buddies. Han Benninck (?) live was a special treat. But there’s a level on which I think they’ve strayed too far from that place where music is both challenging and listenable.

    As in, sometimes I think that the musical avant-garde is susceptible to the same kind of hoax as postmodern scholarship was to the Sokal Hoax. There’s some avant-garde music I love, and some I dislike, but a certain amount of it I simply distrust as somehow “too easy.” While also being way too hard in another sense.

    That’s why I like the solution Coleman has come up with; not abandoning rhythm, just doing new (or old) things with it; not abandoning melody, but making it work harder. And making it quite listenable, too, if not danceable.

    (I should note that this attitude has only developed over time. When I was in my teens and twenties, I was all over Brontzmann and musicians like him. Though I was also into Coleman in my 20s, as well…)

  2. Well, there certainly is no excuse for the Nihilist Spasm Band, but I suppose that’s kind of the point. While someone like Brotzmann might be deliberately pushing the boundaries of music, NSB types are just making one big general rejection. This can be cathartic if done “well,” though maybe statements of value don’t really apply. I mean saying “That’s really good noise music.” seems inherently perverse.

    Speaking of perverse, here’s more Borbetomagus:

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