Muhal Richard Abrams

Levels and Degrees of Light

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Levels and Degrees of Light was the first recording under Muhal Richard Abrams' name and was a landmark album that launched the first in a long line of beautiful, musical salvos from the AACM toward the mainstream jazz world. The title track finds Abrams broadly tracing out some of the territory he would continue to explore in succeeding decades, an ethereal, mystic quality (evinced by Penelope Taylor's otherworldly vocalizing and Gordon Emmanuel's shimmering vibes) balanced by a harsh and earthy bluesiness set forth by the leader's piercing clarinet. "The Bird Song" begins with a fine, dark poetry recitation by David Moore (oh! for the days when one didn't approach a poem on a jazz album with great trepidation) before evanescing into a whirlwind of percussion, bird whistles, and violin (the latter by Leroy Jenkins in one of his first recorded appearances). When the band enters at full strength with Anthony Braxton (in his first recording session), the effect is explosive and liberating, as though Abrams' band had stood on the shoulders of Coltrane, Coleman, and Taylor and taken a massive, daring leap into the future. It's a historic performance. The final track offers several unaccompanied solo opportunities, spotlighting Abrams' sumptuous piano and the under-recognized bass abilities of Charles Clark. This is a milestone recording and belongs in the collection of any modern jazz fan.

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