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Monday, January 31, 2011

Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra: "Blu Blu Blu"

The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra
"Blu Blu Blu"
Black Saint (1991)
1,000 Albums To Hear Before You Die

I love Muhal Richard Abrams. I should give you some background why.

There were two significant eras of jazz in Chicago. The first was the popularization of jazz itself, thanks to Louie Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke. The second is that of Chicago free jazz. Abrams was instrumental in the promotion of free jazz in Chicago, not only in his playing but in his co-founding of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, an organization that fostered free jazz in Chicago, and led to the formation of groups such as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Free jazz isn’t easily defined because it merely writes off the rules set in bop and modal jazz. If you think that equates to chaos, you’d better listen closer.

I like to think of the tracks on “Blu Blu Blu” as similar to the orbits of the planets. Rarely do the planets (or in this case, the instruments) align into anything that’s beautiful to the naked eye, but when one steps back and look at the big picture; all of the planets are traveling around the sun, albeit at their own pace; then the listener can understand how each instrument is centered around something, no matter how much the opposite seems to be true. It’s organized chaos.

“Blu Blu Blu” consists of eight tracks composed by Abrams, but as is the case in most jazz albums, improvisation moves in. This is especially expected on a free jazz record. Trumpeter Jack Walrath and flautist John Purcell earn special recognition.

Abrams manages to tie history to his new wave of jazz however. Especially noteworthy is David Fiuzynski’s guitar on the track “Blu Blu Blu,” an ode to Muddy Waters. The guitar says blues and the band says jazz, but the two walk hand in hand, indicating the close ties shared by the seemingly opposite genres.

This album is a tough listen for those just adjusting to jazz. But then again, maybe the jazz usually played on the radio is just too blah for you. In that case, Abrams is a great place to start.

INTERESTING FACT: Abrams, after moving to New York City, got a professorship teaching jazz composition and theory at Columbia University. Guess experience does add up after all.

Plus Equal Minus Balance by Muhal Richard Abrams on Grooveshark


  1. Blu Blu Blu is NOT a free jazz record, get your damn musical facts straight. The album is a work by a master composer/arranger/pianist much it is highly organized and structured by Abrams.

    sthis is some blog written by a kid hobbyist anyway nothing to take seriously as a review

  2. Sen,

    Author Tom Moon describes Abrams as "effortless, unpredictable free jazz." I also spoke with Ohio State Jazz Studies Professor Graeme Boone to get his thoughts and he concurred that Abrams was a "free jazz" artist. I can understand your disagreement however; it is my understanding based on Boone's comments that free jazz in no way implies that the entirety of a piece be "free." Abrams pieces are obviously well-structured during their openings and closings, but they free up during space reserved for solos in a bop or hard bop style song. And of course, jazz is rarely black and white in terms of genre. I imagine you have quite logical reasons for classifying it otherwise, and I'm more than open to hear your input (granted you can do it less snidely than your previous post).

    I agree with you entirely that Abrams was a wonderful composer/arranger! Labeling this album as "free" doesn't at all detract from his abilities as a band leader. Coltrane and Davis forayed into free jazz and no one would dare question their abilities as composers.

    I may be a "kid hobbyist" (relative to you) but I do research to make sure my "damn musical facts" are straight, or at least my opinions aren't too offbeat.

    Sincerely yours,