My new column at CityArts-New York is about Roulette, the new music/new dance performance space, started in downtown Manhattan but moved to a coolly refurbished theater near a major Brooklyn transportation hub. Roulette’s in first season in this new home is thick with Chicago-born, -raised and -emigrated “creative musicians” — Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, George E. Lewis, Wadada Leo Smith, all early members of the AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians). Which makes perfect sense, as their decades old but still biting, exploratory, expansive, original, intellectual and always impassioned works inspired Roulette stalwarts John Zorn, Marty Ehrlich, Elliot Sharp and Adam Rudolph (all performing this fall).
The AACM has also born the latest younger generation of surprising composer-improvisers — Taylor Ho Bynum, Mary Halvorson, Tyshawn Sorey, Steve Lehmann, Matana Roberts, Liberty Ellman among others. Some of them appear in the AACM-New York concert series at Community Church of New York, instituted by the group’s founding guide, pianist-composer-improviser and NEA Jazz Master Muhal Richard Abrams.
I visited Braxton — Roulette’s throwing a four-day celebration of his defiantly unique but highly systematized music October 5 through 8 — a couple weeks ago at Wesleyan University, where he’s taught for 22 years, and video’d him with his ensemble class. The shooting and editing’s a bit rough, but you can take a look if you like.
Braxton and Wadada Leo Smith, now a key figure at California Institute of the Arts and in December having 70th birthday concerts at Roulette, were among the first AACM members to be embraced by American institutions of higher learning. Currently drummer/percussionist Thurman Barker teaches at Bard College, reeds virtuoso Roscoe Mitchell holds a prestigious chair at Mills College in Oakland and flutist Nicole Mitchell has just taken a new university position in San Diego. AACM precepts — open-ended but precisely described in George E. Lewis’s exemplary book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music — are ever more identified with what must be studied and what can be done.