George Lewis is a modern musical polymath, in the truest sense of the word. As the legendary trombonist and pioneering member of the Chicago based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Lewis was a driving force in one of the most important movements in improvised music in the last decades of the 20th century.
His work with interactive computer software has transformed the fields of electro-acoustic music and virtual instruments. He has had an equally large impact on the academic community, both through his publications and his mentoring of student composers and performers alike. Lewis’s work as a composer fuses the many facets of his musicianship together, and his collaboration with ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) documented here on this recording, gives us an opportunity to see the wide net that he casts. The recording opens with the title track, a boisterous and colorful ensemble work that is inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s 1934 essay, “Characteristics of Negro Expression.” Hurston’s description of churchgoing folks’ penchant for “decorating a decoration” captivated Lewis, and the piece manifests that exuberance through explosive, embellished lines, glitchy off-kilter grooves, and subtly shaded microtonal chords. Shadowgraph, 5 and Artificial Life 2007 are both examples of Lewis’s open-form scores, in which he strives to facilitate a structured improvisation experience through non-standard notation.
Shadowgraph was written for the AACM big band, comprised of a series of symbol instructions, and is among pieces Lewis wrote for what he calls the “creative orchestra.” Artificial Life 2007 was written for the Glasgow Improvisers Orchestra, and seeks to “exteriorize the process of decision-making” inherent in improvised playing through more explicit text instructions. Born Obbligato was written for ICE as a companion piece to Beethoven’s Septet op. 20. Lewis borrows structural and textural ideas from Beethoven’s septet, and also adds percussion to the fourth movement, performed here by virtuoso Steven Schick.
The recording closes with Lewis’s performance of T.J. Anderson’s In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray, a writer and colleague of Anderson who often chose the African-American musical tradition as his subject matter and the departure point for inspiration.
01. Will To Adorn 14:20
02. Shadowgraph, 5 05:14
03. Artificial Life, 2007 04:57
04. Born Obbligato I. 06:44
05. Born Obbligato II. 02:59
06. Born Obbligato III. 03:26
07. Born Obbligato IV. 03:55
08. Born Obbligato V. 01:30
09. Born Obbligato VI. 05:47
10. In Memoriam Albert Lee Murray 03:08
Engineers: Silas Brown (track 1), Ross Karre (track 2-3), Jessica Slaven (tracks 4-6, 8-9), George Lewis (track 7), Ryan Streber (track 10)
Track 1 Miller Theatre, Columbia University, NY, NY
Track 2 Roulette, Brooklyn, NY
Track 3 Preston Bradley Hall, Chicago Cultural Center
Track 4-6, 8-9 Abrons Arts Center
Track 7 Clark Studio Theatre, Lincoln Center, NY
Track 10 Oktaven Audio, Mt. Vernon, NY