Listening Room

12 George Lewis AfterwordGeorge Lewis – Afterword, An Opera in Two Acts
International Contemporary Ensemble
Tundra TUN014 (


Afterword, Act One: Scene 1: Down South - Listen on YouTube

Afterword, Act One: Scene 4: First Meeting - Listen on YouTube

Afterword, Act Two: Scene 11: Afterword - Listen on YouTube


Read the Review

In 1971, George Lewis joined the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) as a precocious 19-year-old trombone player. Today he is celebrated as a performer, composer, scholar, developer of groundbreaking interactive improvising software and longtime chronicler of the AACM. In 2008 he produced a monumental history of the now-legendary collective of experimental African-American musicians, A Power Stronger Than Itself. This brilliant opera came eight years later. 

Afterword is based on the book. It draws on Lewis’ extensive interviews, plus recordings of early meetings made by AACM co-founder Muhal Richard Abrams. The delightful scene which opens the second act comes from a poetic journal by Claudine Myers. We’re given a colourful glimpse into an afternoon at the AACM’s center in Chicago. The playful camaraderie among such luminaries of experimental music as Anthony Braxton, Wadada Leo Smith and Roscoe Mitchell, along with Myers and Abrams (“Man your hair is nappier than mine!”) and the warm encouragement they offer one other (“Get your own thing, you don’t need someone else’s”) are reflected with powerful immediacy in a vibrant tapestry of sound.

 Transcending the constraints of straightforward narrative, Afterword directly confronts the elemental connections music has with originality, freedom, identity… and life itself. Lewis adds layers of resonant nuance by having each solo voice represent a variety of characters. This allows the singers, in different guises, to reflect a sweeping range of struggles, dreams and accomplishments. 

The three terrific vocalists, soprano Joelle Lamarre, contralto Gwendolyn Brown and tenor Julian Terrell Otis, bring dramatic energy to the ever-shifting perspectives. Under conductor David Fulmer, the intrepid musicians of the International Contemporary Ensemble realize Lewis’ intense, unruly orchestrations with precision and passion. 

This recording was made at the 2016 premiere in Chicago during celebrations for the AACM’s 50th anniversary. I can’t imagine a more inspiring way to celebrate.

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