MUSIC In his 1963 essay “Jazz and the White Critic,” Amiri Baraka (then Leroi Jones) writes, “The New Thing, as recent jazz is called, is a reaction to the hard bop-funk-groove-soul camp, which itself came into being in protest against the squelching of most of the blues elements in cool and progressive jazz. Funk (groove, soul) has become as formal and clichéd as cool or swing, and opportunities for imaginative expression have dwindled almost to nothing.”
In today’s “almost to nothing” post-everything musical wasteland, there is a persistent dwindling yet again. So much musical freedom has given way to downloaded snippets and the time restrictions of YouTube videos. Even our old popular rebel friends, hip-hop and punk rock, have lost their teeth to corporate bling or easy-bake obscurity. Improvisation, experimentation, and innovation are still so hard to come by that I can’t help but wonder — don’t we need a new thing?
The “New Thing” that Baraka defends in his essay is now the mainstay of a modern, and still thriving, jazz movement that included the likes of Coltrane and Eric Dolphy. Today you can find it in the sounds of musicians such as Ornette Coleman and Roscoe Mitchell.
In 1965, Mitchell helped found the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). His 1966 album Sound (Delmark) is heralded by many as a milestone that helped usher in “The New Thing.” Along with Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith, and others, Mitchell became a founding member of The Art Ensemble of Chicago in the late 1960s. He’s since continued to explore the fringes of avant-garde jazz, noise, classical, folk, and world music to create hybrid compositions that mesmerize and provoke.
This week, on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, Yoshi’s is inviting Mitchell to join Baraka, the author of more than 40 books, poet icon, revolutionary activist, and father of Afrosurreal Expressionism.
Baraka is renowned as the founder of the Black Arts Movement in Harlem in the 1960s, just as Mitchell is revered as the founder of the AACM in Chicago around the same time. Both men have a reputation for the type of work regimens and standards of excellence that produce results. Baraka is a master performer and reader. Mitchell is a master musician who, along with saxophone, plays clarinet, flute, piccolo, oboe, and many handmade “little instruments” that create ethereal, and eerily familiar, sounds. In short, having these two men on stage doing their thing is like having more than 100 years of the radical avant-garde blowing fire and ice in your face. You’ll like it. Trust me.
The idea that American music never fully explored “The New Thing” when it emerged nearly 50 years ago is slowly coming to light, thanks to Soul Jazz’s 2004 compilation New Thing! and a recent resurgence of interest in — and reissuing of — works by Sun Ra, Thelonious Monk, and George Lewis. It leaves me to wonder: is the old “New Thing” just the new “New Thing” we’ve been waiting for?
AMIRI BARAKA AND ROSCOE MITCHELL
Mon./17, 8 and 10 p.m., $12–$18
Yoshi’s San Francisco
1330 Fillmore, SF