Muhal Richard Abrams - Levels and Degrees of Light (1968), 8/10

Pretty out there for a 1967 recording, but in a direction of boundary pushing and refreshing, novel material. There are foundations of what creative music would expand on for years after this recording including the ambient, sparse free jazz accompanied by passionate poetry readings, truly untethered free improvisation, and electronic experimentation. Abrams, Barker, Clark and Braxton truly shine with their unique styles meshing particularly well on unhinged tracks like the latter half of "The Bird Song" and "My Thoughts Are My Future - Now and Forever". Abrams in particular shines on the opener with his lucid piano performance contrasting its squealing horn, a perfect introduction to such a progressive recording. On that note, this is not a traditional sounding free jazz record as it was entirely composed by the AACM's founder in Abrams along with a co-written second track along with David Moore, it is more dependent on indeterminacy and space than its frantic or chaotic origins. It is also worth noting that Anthony Braxton's presence on the album was his first official credit, showing his early potential as a saxophonist both in performance and in vision. Jenkins contributes one of his most inspired performances on the sprawling twenty-three minute "The Bird Song". Although portions of the spoken word section of "The Bird Song" can be tiresome, it still sets a strong foundation for modern creative and its direction in the coming years. The highlight from a standpoint of pure sound and arrangement beyond its new oddities is surely "My Thoughts Are My Future - Now and Forever", originally the second half of the first side of the record but swapped with "The Bird Sound" for its CD release. I'll take them in any order, but prefer the newer track list perhaps simply because I prefer to end on a more chaotic, optimistic high note. Clearly one of the most important releases for modern creative and an interesting showcase of what was to come.