Once we achieve freedom that doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll go mental, lighting fires and getting into trouble with the law. Sticking it to the man doesn’t have to mean offensive graffiti on the houses of the privileged . There are innumerable ways of asserting one’s authority. Quietude can be as effective as a riot. Whilst others fought for freedom through force of expression, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians fought and exercised their freedom through force of will. Whilst others were loud, often the AACM whispered their ideas and objections, and it was just as powerful. Freedom is infinite and the AACM wants to see it all. If others were the explosion the these creative musicians went in to explore the space created. Black freedom, once won, allows for the full expression of a black individual’s experience regardless of whether that conforms to expectations of what a free black musician should sound like. It allows for spacemen and scientists as much as it allows for preachers and pyromaniacs.
George Lewis, the trombonist, author, and academic, embodies this train of thought in his piece Toneburst. Here is a man well and truly exploring his instrument, its nuances and peculiarities, every possibility turned over in his hands and examined. Toneburst feels as if it were made in a sterile environment under test conditions with George Lewis in a lab coat hunched over his desk; blowing, watching, scribbling notes with the stub of pencil, blowing again. But if that sounds dry I can assure you it’s not. The experience of watching any master at work is exhilarating; and here we have the sound of a man engaged in the noble cause of exploration, pushing frontiers back for others to come in behind. Lewis is methodical, slowly ensuring the ground is mapped, annotated, and it is fascinating as well as beautiful. We are discovering with him each time he breathes out another mumbled threat, slide into and out of nothing, shouted ramble of a drunk, raspberry. A raspberry blown back to oppressors, perhaps, before the serious business of using up that hard won freedom. And that is what is often forgotten when we talk about freedom: that we really can do anything. George Lewis didn’t forget. He remembers ever detail.