Muhal Richard Abrams

Composer, arranger, and pianist Muhal Richard Abrams is largely a self-taught musician who was deeply influenced by the bop innovations of the late Bud Powell. Abrams has been a beacon in the jazz community as a co-founder (and first president), in 1965, of Chicago’s legendary vanguard music institution, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). While Abrams is well-known as a mentor to three generations of younger musicians — born in 1930 he was a decade older than his closest peer in the AACM — as a bandleader and professor at the Banff Center, Columbia University, Syracuse University, and the BMI Composers’ Workshop, he is not always recognized for his substantial contribution as a player and recording artist. Abrams’ first gigs were playing the blues, R&B, and hard bop circuit in Chicago and working as a sideman with everyone from Dexter Gordon and Max Roach to Ruth Brown and Woody Shaw. But Abrams’ own recordings reveal his strength as an innovator. His 1967 debut, Levels and Degrees of Light on Chicago’s Delmark label, set the course for his own career and that of many of his AACM contemporaries, including Henry Threadgill, the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Leo Smith, and Anthony Braxton. Abrams is also a conduit for the tradition. Though his music is noted for its vanguard edginess, he nonetheless bridges everything in his playing from boogie-woogie to bebop to free improv, as evidenced by Sightsong and Rejoicing With the Light, both on the Black Saint label. Abrams has been a composer that moves through the classical tradition as well. Novi, his first symphony for orchestra and jazz quartet, has been performed at various festivals, and the Kronos Quartet performed his String Quartet, No. 2.
Vision Towards Essence captures Muhal Richard Abrams live at the peak of his powers, performing solo in front of an enthusiastic audience at the 1998 Guelph Jazz Festival in Canada. This incredible recording captures an unedited account of a continuous sixty-minute, fully improvised performance. Though Abrams has composed for everything from duos to big band and is currently working on a commission for symphony orchestra, he claims that the extemporaneous solo performance, which draws on his full wellspring of experience and intuition, is the pinnacle of his art. Vision Towards Essence veers between passages of all out power and the delicately mesmerizing; it is the height of spontaneous artistic invention.

Related News

Muhal’s latest, SoundDance, gets a nice write up in this weekend’s Art and Leisure section of the New York Times. Nate Chinen says “The album, on two CDs, is a bristling wonder.”

posted on May 9, 2011 by Seth


Muhal Richard Abrams will be honored at Lincoln Center next Tuesday January 12th with a 2010 NEA Jazz Masters Award. The ceremony and concert will be broadcast live on WBGO 88.3FM and can be heard via their stream HERE.

Josh Jackson’s most recent edition of The Checkout on WBGO features an interview with Muhal. Listen to it HERE.

posted on January 7, 2010 by Seth


The official results of the 57th Down Beat Critics Poll are out and, as usual, the Pi family is well represented. Rudresh Mahanthappa, in particular, had a stellar year: His release Kinsmen was named #5 top album of the year; he entered the top alto sax category for the first time, coming in at #7, and was #1 in the Rising Star alto saxophone list as well; plus he was named the #1 Rising Star Jazz Artist and #5 Rising Star Composer. Vijay Iyer also had a spectacular year: He was named five times (six if you count Rising Start Jazz Group ranking for Fieldwork.) Finally, Muhal Richard Abrams came in at #4 in the Hall of Fame balloting. Could next year be Muhalís year?

Balloting results below. Congratulations to everyone!

Hall of Fame - Muhal Richard Abrams #4; Jazz Album - Rudresh Mahanthappa, Kinsmen #5; Jazz Artist, Rising Star - Rudresh Mahanthappa #1; Jazz Artist, Rising Star - Vijay Iyer #3; Jazz Group, Rising Star - Vijay Iyer Quartet #2; Jazz Group, Rising Star - Fieldwork #11; Trumpet - Wadada Leo Smith #8; Trumpet, Rising Star - Corey Wilkes #9; Trombone - George Lewis - #7; Soprano Saxophone - Roscoe Mitchell #10; Alto Saxophone - Rudresh Mahanthappa #7; Alto Saxophone - Anthony Braxton #9; Alto Saxophone, Rising Star - Rudresh Mahanthappa #1; Alto Saxophone, Rising Star - Steve Lehman #5; Flute - Henry Threadgill #12; Piano, Rising Star - Vijay Iyer #1; Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer - Craig Taborn #5; Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer, Rising Star - Craig Taborn #1; Guitar - Marc Ribot #11; Acoustic Bass, Rising Star - Drew Gress #7; Electric Bass, Rising Star - Stomu Takeishi #1; Electric Bass, Rising Star - Drew Gress #5; Drums - Eric Harland #10; Drums - Jack DeJohnette #2; Drums - Nasheet Waits #12; Drums, Rising Star - Eric Harland #1; Drums, Rising Star - Dafnis Prieto #2; Drums, Rising Star - Marcus Gilmore #4; Drums, Rising Star - Nasheet Waits #6; Drums, Rising Star - Gerald Cleaver #10; Drums, Rising Star - Tyshawn Sorey #11; Vibes, Rising Star - Bryan Carrott #4; Vibes, Rising Star - Chris Dingman #12; Violin - Charles Burnham #7; Composer - Vijay Iyer #6; Composer, Rising Star - Vijay Iyer #3; Composer, Rising Star - Rudresh Mahanthappa #5; Blues Artist/Group - James Blood Ulmer #6.

posted on July 21, 2009 by Yulun


Great news! Muhal Richard Abrams, a founder of the AACM and a dear friend of Pi Recordings has been named a National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master for 2010! The recipients will be honored in a ceremony at Jazz at Lincoln Center on January 12, 2010. Check out Muhals latest releases: Vision Towards Essence and Streaming for just a small sense of all that Muhal has accomplished in his long and illustrious career.

Congratulations Muhal!

posted on May 21, 2009 by Yulun


This is another important week in the ongoing celebration of the AACM occasioned by the publication of George Lewis’s book: A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. The events kick off Monday October 6th with a discussion of his book by George Lewis at 6:00pm at 301 Philosophy Hall at Columbia University. This is followed later in the week with three concerts Thursday through Saturday and a panel discussion on Saturday. Click on News & Events for more details.

posted on October 6, 2008 by Yulun


The 56th Annual Down Beat Critic’s Poll results are in and we are pleased to say that a number of Pi Recording’s artists have been recognized for their work over the past year.

  • Muhal Richard Abrams received 32 votes towards Hall of Fame consideration.

  • The Vijay Iyer Quartet received 33 votes in the Rising Star Jazz Group category. Additionally, Vijay received 47 votes in the Rising Star Composer category, 28 votes in the Rising Star Jazz Artist category and 60 votes in the Rising Star Piano category. Tyshawn Sorey also received Rising Star Jazz Artist consideration with 23 votes as well as 29 votes in the Rising Star Drums category.

  • Roscoe Mitchell received 38 votes in the Soprano Saxophone category.

  • Rudresh Mahanthappa received 23 votes in the Alto Saxophone category and 85 votes in the Rising Star Alto Saxophone category. Steve Lehman also received Rising Star Alto Saxophone with 48 votes.

  • Henry Threadgill received 39 votes in the Flute category.

  • Corey Wilkes received 35 votes in the Rising Star Trumpet category.

  • Marc Ribot received 26 votes and James “Blood” Ulmer received 25 votes in the Guitar category. Additionally, “Blood” received 50 votes in the Blues Artist/Group category.

Pi Recordings would like to thank all of the critics who recognize the work of our artists year after year.

posted on July 13, 2008 by Seth


More great press about the AACM and George Lewis’s book from Hank Shteamer in Time Out New York. For those interested in digging deeper, (well you really should read the book) Hank has put up these great interview transcripts with George and Muhal on his blog. Happy reading.

posted on May 8, 2008 by Seth


George Lewis’s book A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music is now available. Read fine articles about this important work here and here. Of course , if you are in New York, please attend this important event, a panel discussion, book signing, and performance featuring Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Wadada Leo Smith.

posted on May 7, 2008 by Seth


The Year End Lists are in and we would like to thank the following critics for their support of our releases this year; Alex Dutilh for including Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis and Roscoe Mitchell’s Streaming and Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Codebook in his year end list and Stuart Broomer and Philip DiPietro for including Steve Lehman’s On Meaning in their year end lists.

Additionally, we would like to thank those critics whose votes helped Muhal Richard Abrams Vision Towards Essence to be included on the Village Voice 2007 Jazz Poll and those whose votes helped Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers to be recognized among the Best Debut Albums of 2007.

posted on January 2, 2008 by Seth


As stated in an earlier post, we are always excited by home grown love. It is with that in mind that Hank Shteamer and Steve Smith for including Muhal Richard Abrams’s Vision Towards Essence in their Time Out New York Best of 2007 lists.

Coincidently, or maybe not so coincidently as we are fans of his as well, they also both included Tyshawn Sorey’s that/not on there.

And because it is the end of the year and we don’t object to giving ourselves a little pat on the back every once in a while we thought we would close this post out with a quote from Hank’s list. “Local imprint Pi cements its position as one of the premier 21st-century jazz labels with a sumptuous solo recital from an avant-garde master.” Thank you Hank.

posted on December 27, 2007 by Seth


The end of the year is fun for any number of reasons, but it is especially fun for us as it gives us a moment to find out who really enjoyed our output for the year.

At the top of our list this year has to be Derk Richardson. His declaration that Muhal Richard Abrams Vision Towards Essence is the Solo Piano release of the year, in the San Francisco Gate, is no small step towards making this our best year yet.

Not to be outdone though, Siddhartha Mitter listed Amir ElSaffar’s Two Rivers in his 2007 best of list in The Boston Globe alongside M.I.A. and Bettye LaVette. Not bad.

posted on December 23, 2007 by Seth

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Muhal Richard Abrams

The Kennedy Center, Washington, DC