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Artist: Frequency

Album: Frequency

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Aug. 27, 2006

Frequency had to come out, if only so that whenever an out-of-towner asks "what's up with the AACM these days?" they could be directed to this disc. Most of the Art Ensemble Of Chicago haven't lived in the town that gave them their name for decades; the same goes for Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Leroy Jenkins, and just about anyone else you might remember from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians' first two decades. On the other hand, reed player Edward Wilkerson, flutist Nicole Mitchell, percussionist Avreeayl Ra, and bassist Harrison Bankhead not only live and work within Chicago's city limits, their names are often associated with the sort of community-building efforts that have been a major AACM focus over the years. However such involvement means that while other Chicagoans tour the USA and Europe, Frequency honed its ensemble interaction during occasional mid-week gigs at the Velvet Lounge, a South Side tavern.

Like the Art Ensemble and Air before them, Frequency is a band where everyone composes. And like them, each player doubles on various instruments, particularly flutes and percussion. Ra's kalimbas bring an Afro-conscious vibe to "Satya" and "Portrait of Light." Mitchell rustles a plastic bag to create a mysterious backdrop to "From The Other Side's" seething tangle of flutes and strings, while her Egyptian harp evokes an Oriental atmosphere behind Wilkerson's keening alto lines on "Optimystic." Frequency balance their cosmic yearnings with earthier sentiments; for example, pungent harmonies and assertive horn solos ride "The Tortoise's" assertive groove. The only element that is out of balance is Mitchell's occasional wordless vocalizing, of which a little goes a very long way. But even her back-of-the-throat exclamations fit into Frequency's spirited exoticism.

By Bill Meyer

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