Blu Blu Blu

The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra

album cover

Effortless, Unpredictable Free Jazz

Outbursts of childlike joy and growling blues catcalls animate the music of Muhal Richard Abrams, the pianist and composer who is one of the stealth legends of modern jazz. A founding member of the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), one of the most influential outfits dedicated to progressive jazz, Abrams was on the scene when free jazz was coalescing in the 1960s. With his debut recording as a leader in 1967 and many of the titles that followed, he expanded the toolkit of the typical jazz radical with ideas from blues and New Orleans music.

This 1990 session is one of several thrilling Abrams works for large ensemble (another is the hard-to-find Rejoicing with the Light) in which angular, inventive written material is offset by slightly unhinged solo passages. The band includes trumpeter Jack Walrath, vibraphonist Warren Smith, and a whistler named Joel Brandon, whose feature, "One for the Whistler," is a suite that includes a desultory ballad and an agitated Afro-Cuban poly-rhythm. (Those curious to hear what a jazz whistler sounds like when he's got the spotlight should cue up "Stretch Time," which features a spry, if short, Brandon excursion.) The spirited title track is a tribute to Muddy Waters; Abrams got his start playing blues and R&B, and this is one of a long line of originals that celebrates (and strengthens) the link between gut-level blues and the visceral expressions of the jazz avant-garde.

Other musicians have had trouble getting those styles to mesh. Abrams, a free-jazz subversive, does it effortlessly, creating unpredictable music distinguished by a bustling big-city exuberance.

Genre: Jazz
Released: 1991, Black Saint
Key Tracks: "Blu Blu Blu," "One for the Whistler," "Stretch Time"
Catalog Choice: Rejoicing with the Light; Sightsong; View from Within
Next Stop: Art Ensemble of Chicago: Urban Bushmen
After That: Henry Threadgill: Too Much Sugar for a Dime
Book Pages: 3–4

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#1 from Philip Casey Photography, Wasilla, Alaska - 11/17/2008 2:07

Album on Amazon [link moved].

Editor’s note: Thank you! We’ve added the “buy” link above.

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