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Air: The Chicago Kind, not the Soundtrack Dudes

As one continues to wade through the expansive log of Chicago based improve groups, there’s eventually the sense that just about anything recorded during the seventies has roughly the same feel – give or take a bit of aggressive soloing.

But after the establishment of AACM and Su Ra moving along to greener pastures, the next crop of players seemed to have all aped roughly the same approach to collective improv. Of course, the argument might be made that given the nature of the form – or lack there of – a great deal of variety is just about impossible in the first place. But after getting an earful of ten albums with the same general bent, there doesn’t seem to be any great reason to soldier on.

That’s not to say Air, a group initially bringing together Henry Threadgill, Fred Hopkins and Steve McCall, is void of worth. On the contrary – the group displays a wealth of restraint and adept listen skills over the course of its second album, the 1976 Air Raid.

Comprising just four tracks, each first penned by Threadgill, the trio finds itself in a variety of different settings, in terms of moods as opposed to styles or genres.

Being familiar with any of these player’s catalogs, before or after this, isn’t going to serve as proper preparation for “Midnight Sun.” The song isn’t too far removed from the rest of the work here, but there’s a feeling as worked up by the rhythm section that isn’t found elsewhere. It’s not an inorganic vibe, but certainly tied to the time during which the album was recorded. Technology didn’t overtake this effort – or anything else Air recorded.

The sixteen minute “Release” works just as its title insinuates. After that “Midnight Sun” excursion, this track finds Threadgill picking up a flute and working it over top a shambolic drums and rambling bass. With the song taking so long to develop one would figure that some sort of groove, or at least a sublime jam would result. But as each successive player takes a solo, it becomes increasingly clear that his particular stab at improvisation isn’t gonna be all that successful.

But the genre as a whole and in Chicago specifically just seems like a tremendous crap shoot. Granted, there was and is still a great deal of experimentation there, but it sounds like failure a bit too frequently. And that’s really a bummer when one expects Roscoe Mitchell every time out.