Spirits: Then & Now, the October release from percussionist Art “Turk” Burton and Congo Square, is a celebration of the 50th anniversary of the prestigious Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). It was founded in Chicago to foster dynamic creative approaches to the traditions molding African-American music. The organization and its early members—bands like the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Henry Threadgill’s Air—were instrumental in the development and spread of new jazz ideas, a mission that continues to define the organization.
Burton’s album is a brilliant demonstration of the power of that aesthetic, then and now. The first two tracks are the “then.” Recorded live in July 1983 at Rick’s Café Americain, the tracks feature an ensemble of Association musicians gathered by Burton especially for the performance. Among the musicians joining Burton, who worked the congas for the session, were Vincent Carter (soprano and tenor sax), Mwata Bowden (baritone sax), Theodis Rodgers, Jr. (piano), Harrison Bankhead (bass), and Reggie Nicholson (drums). Douglas Ewart (tenor sax) and Donald Rafael Garrett (bass) joined in on the second song.
They open with a Burton original, “Cuba: A Tribute to Chucho.” Fittingly, the piece opens the album with a vibrant conga solo from the composer, the whole filled with the spirit of the great Chucho Valdez. They follow with a fire breathing take on the standard “When Sonny Gets Blue” that blasts for almost 11 minutes.
The rest of the album, six tracks, is the “now.” The Congo Square ensemble consists of Ari Brown (tenor and soprano sax), Taalib-Din Ziyad (vocals and flute), Kirk Brown (piano), Bankhead (acoustic and Fender bass), Avreeayl Amen Ra (drums), Sammi “Cha Cha” Torres (percussion), and Luis Rosario (timbales and Brazilian percussion).
In what is a kind of salute to John Coltrane, they begin with Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue” and follow with two Coltrane compositions—a shorter detour to “Moment’s Notice” and an intense version of “A Love Supreme” complete with chanting from Torres. The set concludes with three Burton originals: “Mojuba,” a rhapsody for percussion, “Mr. Brown (Cold Sweat),” a tribute to James Brown, and “Soul Naturals,” both a kind of Afro-Cuban-tinged funk.
Spirit: Then & Now is an album filled with good listening.
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