Ancient to Future: A Festival in Celebration of the Great Revolution in Jazz


This weekend we’ll be hosting a music festival called Ancient to Future during which we’ll celebrate the works of some of the most influential, creative, genre-bending minds that jazz has to offer.

We asked the musical directors involved to write a bit about the pieces they will be performing:

Greg Sinibaldi on Julius Hemphill: Music for Saxes

I happened upon Julius Hemphill’s music completely by accident when I was a kid just beginning to get into music. I went to the record store and found these records by the World Saxophone Quartet. As a 16 year old saxophone player, I of course, thought buying such a record would be a good idea. This was one of the first records of “freeish” jazz I had been exposed too. I say freeish because so much of Hemphill’s music has a compositional structure that calling completely free would be a mistake. I immediately felt the energy from the group and was amazed that you could play a saxophone in some way other than reading notes on a page.

One of the enduring qualities I appreciate about Hemphill’s music is that the flavor of the blues is always present. All of his music has this flavor, from the first world saxophone quartet records to his symphonic pieces. The sextet music we’ll be playing on the 6th is no exception.

Seth Alexander on “This Is Our Music” – The Music of Ornette Coleman

When I was asked to put together an Ornette Coleman set for this fabulous festival, I listened to all the OC albums I own and was most fascinated by “This Is Our Music”.

Recorded at Atlantic Records in 1960 and released the following year, it’s the first recording that Ed Blackwell takes the reigns from Billy Higgins and I’m glad because…he’s the man.  That dude can time it up.  The song writing is classic Ornette; soulful, inventive, somewhat abstract but always direct.  Pithy.  Most of the tunes follow an AABA format but it’s not instantly recognizable given the impressionist playing.  Not even the sole standard on the album can alter the uniqueness this quartet brings to the table.

As an offering, I hope our own quartet can honor the genius of this stellar album.  If not, you should at least come watch us burn it down while trying!!

Mike Gebhart – drums
Jim Knodle – trumpet
Paul Kemmish – bass
Seth Alexander – saxophone

Ivan Arteaga on Eric Dolyphy’s “Iron Man”

Wayne Horvitz approached me earlier this year about organizing this whole festival with him. I was really excited! My first confession is that just about every album that he mentioned on the list of possibilities for the festival was unfamiliar to me. So I just want to share that one of the best things about this whole process has been getting to dive into some pretty incredible music both as just a listener and then as a re-interpreter.

Eric Dolphy “Iron Man” Set:
Ivan Arteaga- Alto Sax/Director
D’vonne Lewis – Drums
Evan Flory-Barnes – Bass
Raymond Larsen – Trumpet
Simon Henneman – Guitar

One of the things that I’m really excited for is to work with a few musicians that I don’t often collaborate with. D’vonne Lewis and Evan Flory-Barnes have such a strong report as a unit and mixing them with Ray Larsen, whom I regularly collaborate with, is a really exciting prospect. I’ve thrown Simon Henneman into the mix because of his deep love for this music and his extreme creativity on the guitar. It’s a crossing of familiarity and newness that I’m thrilled to explore through the music of Eric Dolphy. Each person has such a strong voice of their own to bring to the table and after rehearsing I’m thrilled for the performance! I was completely blown away by the Dolphy album Iron Man. It’s such an incredibly swinging but utterly unique and wild album; it sits on the cusp of the hard-bop tradition and wild free-improvisation. The compositions are wily and full of energy, even when slow and quiet. However, there can only be one Eric Dolphy, and Iron Man can only be that record one time. I hope to give a nod to the power and impact the Eric Dolphy’s music and use it as a platform to share our own freakiness. Repertory music for me personally is always looking for a balance between the homage to the past and the self-expression of the present. I think this group of musicians is perfectly suited to stay firmly in love with the legacy of Eric Dolphy, all the while letting their honest and wild musical selves shine.

Ivan Arteaga on Roscoe Mitchell’s “Nonaah”

Seth Alexander – Alto Sax
Kate Olsen – Alto Sax
Neil Welch – Alto Sax
Ivan Arteaga – Alto Sax

You read that all correctly. It’s four Alto Saxophones! You don’t get to hear that everyday. Roscoe Mitchell has spent his entire life on the developing and reimagining his landmark composition Nonaah. In 2013 a group of Seattle musicians I work with invited Roscoe Mitchell to do a concert at Benaroya Hall dedicated to his work on Nonaah. This was a transformative experience for me and I’ll never forget the impact of hearing Roscoe perform solo. Our participation in the concert was putting together a number of different ensembles performing various versions of Nonaah and we are taking this opportunity at Ancient to Future to share the Alto Sax Quartet. If you know Nonaah then you’re already wanting to be there. If you don’t know what 4 alto saxophones playing music by Roscoe Mitchell at the same time sounds like then you really want to be there.

Robin Holcomb on Cecil Taylor’s “Unit Structures”

“To imitate on the piano the leaps in space a dancer makes” is one part of it. Also to work gestures in a modular manner in the midst of cascading notes, huge gong clusters, percussive hands, exuberant winding sound. And flying.

Layers of structure and chaos simultaneously. Glorious themes on this one.

I used to drive nightly from Santa Cruz to San Francisco to hear Cecil Taylor at the Keystone Korner during his residencies there, returning home early in the morning, ears ringing, along Highway 1, farmworkers ghostly as they entered the brussel sprout fields along the cliffs in the fog.

His explosion of form and expressions of joy is foundational to my music.

Wayne Horvitz on The Art Ensemble of Chicago – “Fanfare for the Warriors” 

The Art Ensemble of Chicago were pretty much it for me. Basically my favorite band of all time. The music that brought me to improvising and experimental music and sonic revelations were the bands of my youth. The Jefferson Airplane, the Dead, Hendrix, the Velvet Underground and so on. Electric Miles Davis made me think about jazz in a new way, and I started to look further, from traditional jazz, Billie Holiday and Ellington, to 20th century music, Stravinsky and Bartok, and to experimental music of all sorts.

But what grabbed me the most, after A Love Supreme opened up my ears, was the music of Cecil Taylor and Ornette Coleman, especially Cecil. For a period of time that is how I played, I did the best Cecil Taylor imitation I could, and for my senior recital I basically did a “sound alike” of Michael Mantler’s JCOA composition featuring Cecil Taylor.

And then came the Art Ensemble. The AACM were important, and I loved Braxton and Hemphill etc., but there was a deeper connection with AEC. I think I heard in their music everything I was embracing, plus a sense of song, of space, and a being a BAND. And that was what was so great about the Beatles, and the Stones, and Moby Grape, and Quicksilver Messenger Service—they were bands, so much greater then the sum of their parts.

Speaking of bands, I had always been a big fan of The Band. But in all my Santa Cruz Years (72-78) The Band came once a year and I never went, because I was so into jazz and out music I just wasn’t paying attention.(I did see Cecil and Miles, and the AEC and lots of other music in those years, mostly at the Keystone Korner in SF).

Ironically just months after I moved to NYC in 1979 I saw The Last Waltz, and that was the beginning of a realization that I was, in a sense, denying myself an entire side of what I loved in music as part of the music I made. So I believe it was around this time that I really began to find my own voice, and there was an element of how the AEC approached music, how all their influences were in their music but all of it seemed to be their music and their music only. That was an incredible inspiration to me, and has been every since.

There is an incredible moment in the jazz series by Ken Burns where they say, “one night in their own home town of Chicago the Art Ensemble played for an audience of 3 people”. Man that may have been true, but talk about selective narrative. With the possible exception of Miles, the AEC was the only so called jazz band that ever felt like a rock gig, especially in the states. Being outside the Great American Music Hall to see the AEC felt exactly like going to see the Jerry Garcia Band. All ages, all races, folks scalping tickets, t-shirts, drug sales-the whole nine yards. They were a band. The music could be completely abstract, and still it seemed like a gig, not a concept, like they were there to play.

Years later I read George Lewis’ great book about the history of the ACCM, and Joseph Jarmen mentions all of their influences, jazz and African music and contemporary art music etc., etc. But then he pauses and says, “And you know the hippies influenced us as well.” Since I admit that deep down inside I basically am a hippie, those are my true roots, I found that charming, and it rang true.

Years ago I produced a gospel record for Fontella Bass, who had once been married to Lester Bowie. They were already divorced, but very amicable, and Lester came in one day to do one of his inimitable solos on “What the World Needs Now”. We had met a few times before, but It was great to work with him in the studio. Fontella and I were both staying at a hotel midtown Manhatten, I was already living in Seattle and Fontella was back living in her hometown of St. Louis. So Lester gave us a ride back to the hotel in his Lexus. Basically the highlight of my entire career.

Fanfare for the Warriors is a longtime favorite of mine. A piano-less band, this record features their longtime mentor and friend, the great pianist Muhal Richard Abrams. So that means I get to play on this gig too.!

Hope to see you there. We have a great band. Sam Boshnack, Skerik, D’Vonne Lewis, Ivan Arteaga, Geoff Harper and Greg Campbell.


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