[3] The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra – Blu Blu Blu

26 Apr

I like the idea of jazz.  I enjoy the sounds, the instrumentation, and I’ve already discussed my belief that there’s not enough saxophone in the world.

But more often than not, I’m not clear what it is I’m listening to when I hear “serious” jazz.  Tom  Moon tells me that what I’m about to listen to on queueing up Blu Blu Blu is an excellent example of free jazz, but even after a quick peek at Wikipedia for a definition, I’m not much the wiser.

Guess that, much like with Moorish Music from Mauritania, I should just see where my ears take me . . .

Blu Blu Blu

Well the opening number made me want a glass of whiskey, but perhaps that was merely the superficial similarity with the opening scenes of Leaving Las Vegas.  And to begin with I am unsure how I feel about the “misplaying” of the brass – I would possibly do better with this after hearing and gaining greater familiarity for some of the more traditional jazz albums that this is building off of.  A flaw in the alphabetical nature of the list?

That said, I’m engrossed again, and have a greater grounding of where this is coming from than I did for Moorish Music.

And, if I’m honest, the bourbon helps.

The early parts of Cycles Five sound like one of those minimalist pieces (that I love so well) gone subtly and fascinatingly wrong – the difference between rigid phase shifting and musicians’ choices.  When it slips all the way out of any sort of regularity it loses me for a few phrases before returning to the theme.

Throughout the album there is beautiful piano work, anchoring the bizarre woodwind and brass noises coming from all directions. Then in Bloodlines, a gorgeous melodic trumpet solo played straight for a while that is just heartbreaking.  Soon enough it shifts into an ever accelerating big band swing thing that is ever so slightly skewed, as if seen through a reject from a circus’ house of mirrors.

As for the Muddy Waters homage that the album is named for, it’s played almost straight enough for me to wish I was listening to a classic blues album instead.

But something odd happens over the next few days, then weeks.

I remember thinking that I was looking forward to hearing Cycles Five several more times, and when I come back to it I find that the scales and themes are now clearly recognizable, allowing the performers to roll around getting very, very messy in them.

Through multiple plays, I not only start to hear much more of the familiar melody and rhythm of big band standards and classic blues, I find myself humming along to atonal passages, tapping my foot to arhythmic sections.  Although I may not know the musical theory behind it, the math of music – when played this well – means I don’t have to understand it.

I just have to listen.

Despite my brain *still* defaulting to ABBA choruses as I walk down the street, Blu Blu Blu is the first album early in this process that I am sure I will continue to listen to over and over.

Which is why I’m doing this.  While I intellectually enjoyed Moorish Songs, with Abrams I have discovered something I want to hear more of, feel more of – squeaks squawks, whistles and all.

Owned before blogging?  No.  (0/3.  0%)
Heard before blogging?   No.  (1/3.  33%)
Recommend?                     Yes. (3/3.  100%)

Next week:  The Abyssinian Baptist Choir – Shakin’ The Rafters

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9 Responses to “[3] The Muhal Richard Abrams Orchestra – Blu Blu Blu”

  1. Laurie Menke April 26, 2013 at 10:44 AM #

    Interesting how quickly you learned the variations. So you’re three for three on recommending. I guess Moon is doing a pretty good job! But I agree with you that it would be nice to group genres together in increasing complexity. Though maybe it’s better to have each one be totally different from the last so you can appreciate it on its own merits. Happy Friday and thanks for the read, Avri! 🙂

  2. nycavri December 3, 2014 at 8:02 AM #

    Reblogged this on . . . To Hear Before I Blog and commented:

    Throughout December I am going to revisit the first months of this journey, taking time at the end of this year to remember where I’ve been and what I’ve heard. (I actually had this one playing again yesterday, and it is still thoroughly enjoyable.)

  3. Conan McNamara December 3, 2014 at 8:35 AM #

    Of all the albums that you have introduced to me, this one has become a true favorite, gaining a regular place in my rotation of albums to listen to, and addition to many of my playlists that I shuffle for casual listening. It’s thoroughly enjoyable across different moods, times, and attention levels.

  4. nycavri December 3, 2014 at 8:43 AM #

    I completely agree, Conan. For all my worrying that this might not have been the best place to start on my Jazz education, it has turned out to be a highlight in a crowded field.


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