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Jazz - Released April 26, 2019 | Pi Recordings

Hi-Res Distinctions 4F de Télérama
We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration from Pi Recordings, represents the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago's first studio recording in 15 years and features an expanded cast. It arrives some four months after the passing of founding member Joseph Jarman in January 2019 (he doesn't appear), leaving the band's surviving core membership of Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye. The Art Ensemble of Chicago has, since the very beginning, dedicated itself to African diasporic music; their motto is "Great Black Music-Ancient to the Future." Their long tenure also reflects the individual personas of its creators through jazz, advanced compositional techniques, theatrical performance, poetry, and Pan-African percussion, along with an improvisational flair and an exploratory collective persona. Comprised of two discs, this set includes a meticulous studio session and a rousing live concert captured in Ann Arbor, Michigan at Edgefest 2018. This offering is not a mere retrospective, but even its revisioning of older pieces is a startling new creation that surviving members pull off with a diverse group of 15 highly individual talents who bring their own approaches to the AEC's aesthetic lineage. They include Jaribu Shahid, Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reed, Hugh Ragin, Junius Paul, and many more. Together, these virtuoso musicians honor the group's history and help advance the legacy of deceased members Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Jarman. Vocalist Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron opens the studio disc with his chamber-style singing of Mitchell's art song "Variations and Sketches from the Bamboo Terrace" and later delivers the two-part "Jamaica Farewell." The band delivers scorching rhythmic interplay on the completely revisioned "Chi Congo 50" (its original dates from 1972). The spoken and sung poetry of Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) drives Mitchell's insistent title track and Moye's sprawling, trippy, and profound "Mama Koko." The interplay among players is intuitive, economic, and joyous, guided by the inspiration of the AEC's founders; individual traces are all but erased as a striking, spontaneous whole emerges in the studio. Readings of some of the previous and legacy works become different animals altogether live. The album's title track, for example, is not delivered as a celebratory exploration of sound and poetry, but as a long chamber piece with terrain eked out for free improvisation. "Oasis at Dusk" melds African folk rhythms and hard-grooving vanguard soul-jazz with a killer flute solo from Nicole Mitchell. There is also a reading of Favours' "Tutankhamun" that bridges swinging post-bop, funk, and aggressive improvisation, while the live "Mama Koko" unfolds like a folk song before spiraling into the jazz unknown. The live "Saturday Morning" is a percussive study in harmony and dynamics with swirling brass, reed, and woodwind improv adding poignancy to the beat-driven backdrop as urgent, celebratory vocal ululations expressly highlight an otherwise all but hidden melodic statement. The sheer breadth of the ensemble's expression on We Are on the Edge is staggering, a strident declaration that Mitchell and Moye will carry the AEC's powerful, boundary-less creative ethos full force into its sixth decade. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Free Jazz & Avant-Garde - Released January 1, 1979 | ECM

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Jazz - Released January 1, 1985 | ECM

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Jazz - Released March 1, 1982 | ECM

Recorded at a 1980 concert in Munich, Urban Bushmen not only provides an excellent summation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's work since 1966, but also substantiates the group's reputation for putting on intense and inspired shows. The album centers around three extended pieces: reed player Joseph Jarmen's "Theme for SCO," the group's "Urban Magic," and reed player Roscoe Mitchell's "Uncle." Over the course of these multi-part "suites," the group effectively blurs the lines between jazz and free jazz, deftly working through New Orleans' marches, turbulent hard bop, highlife/reggae rhythms, and minimalist sound sculptures; while Jarmen, Mitchell, and trumpeter Lester Bowie come up with consistently varied and surprising solo/tandem contributions, drummer Don Moye and bassist Malachi Favors expand the sound with an array of percussion effects and humorous interjections (sirens, car horns, megaphone rants). Moye and Favors are also featured on the percussion vehicles "Promenade: Cote Bamako I & II," "Bush Magic," and "Sun Preconditions II." The set is balanced out by melancholic and sweet ballads by Bowie and Mitchell ("New York Is Full of Lonely People" and "Peter and Judith," respectively). This is one of the Art Ensemble's best recordings, but due to its intense breadth it might not be an ideal first purchase for newcomers. The best entry point into the group's catalog would be a studio record like Nice Guys (1978) or Third Decade (1984). © Stephen Cook /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 19, 2006 | Rhino Atlantic

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Jazz - Released April 1, 1980 | ECM

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Jazz - Released April 29, 2002 | ECM

Alone among the first eight albums of the ECM Rarum series, the Art Ensemble of Chicago edition is a group effort, with surviving members Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye offering only a brief greeting in the booklet. There were only four Art Ensemble of Chicago albums over only a half-dozen years (1978-1984), so listeners get two tracks from the initial offering, "Nice Guys" and "Full Force," and one apiece from Urban Bushmen and The Third Decade. The nearly 20-minutes-long "Megg Zelma" and 11-minute "Folkus" have an abundance of the free abstract playing, Dada theater, percussion circuses, sound effects, and freaky humor that might be part of a live Art Ensemble of Chicago concert -- recorded with breathtaking clarity and sounding sharper than ever in the 96khz/24-bit digital remastering. Yet there is also a sample of the more ethereal side of the Art Ensemble of Chicago in "Prayer for Jimbo Kwesi," with flutes, trumpet, and soprano sax repeating a haunting modal tune in triple meter. To fill out the CD, ECM includes a fine 1981 Latin-flavored Lester Bowie solo track, "Rios Negroes" (the Bowie ECM solo discography is actually the same size as that of the Art Ensemble's) and reaches all the way to 1997 for a chaotic Roscoe Mitchell free-form solo session, "Nine to Get Ready." Despite the cool, genteel ECM image, the Art Ensemble of Chicago's renegade madness comes through in this reissue in full force -- with great sound to match -- so it can be recommended as an introduction to their freewheeling soundworld. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 1, 2003 | ECM

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Jazz - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

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Jazz - Released September 19, 2006 | Rhino Atlantic

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Jazz - Released July 5, 2017 | Pi Recordings

How strange that there are two studio albums by the Art Ensemble of Chicago issued in 2003, both without Lester Bowie, on two different labels. The ECM album is a tribute to the late Bowie and is made up of the surviving members of the working Art Ensemble -- Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye -- and the album at hand is a reunion of sorts with composer and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman, who retired in the early '90s. While the former album is on the group's American label, ECM, and is a formal tribute to Bowie, it is the latter that more formally encapsulates the Art Ensemble's classic vision of free improvisation, non-Western folk traditions, and jazz as one in the same brew. And yes, Bowie's hard-swinging humorous presence is missed, and to the band's credit, they've made no attempt to fill the void on either recording. The Meeting is not, however, a reacquaintance with Jarman. His composition, "Hail We Now Sing Joy," a hard bopping, scatting tribute to Buddha Shakyamuni, opens the album and creates a space where his trad jazz roots and Bowie's ongoing sense of history are melded by the band, which negotiates the territory with great verve and taste. "It's the Sign of the Times," written by Favors, revisits with deeper wisdom, expansive texture, and more pronounced dynamics the territory the Art Ensemble explored on its first album, People in Sorrow, in 1967. Each member solos for an extended period before the band comes together in a final movement that encapsulates all the varying themes. Almost 19 minutes in length, it's a portrait of the Art Ensemble as individuals coming together to form an inseparable bond and commitment to the creation of sound as music; the pace is slow and purposeful and the expressionism created by the unit is out of this world. "Tech Ritter and the Megabytes" is one of those beautiful Mitchell pieces that is a space-age nursery rhyme (à la "Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes"). Only four and a half minutes in length, it offers striated interwoven melodies along the shimmering harmonic edge of the blues. Three of the remaining four selections are group improvisations broken only by Mitchell's title composition of fat R&B and swing-styled horn lines. Of these, it is the dreamy percussion and woodwind-oriented "Wind and Drum" that is the most moving as it walks the line of spatial relationships to silence, lyric, and non-determinate unfolding. The sense of play that the AEC does so well is what drives "The Train to lo," the album's closer. Bells, whistles, basses played as drums, and sopranino saxophones create lines of communication along attenuated rhythms and faltering interludes that nonetheless create more space for dialogue as they wander in and out of the mix. This is a glorious reunion album, one that delights as it provokes. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released August 17, 2006 | Fuel 2000

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Universal Music Division Decca Records France

The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass was recorded in a Paris studio in 1970. The band had been gigging regularly in the city and this session offered an intimate view of the live material including "How Strange" which appeared later on Live in Paris. "How Strange" is part of a suite with "Ole Jed," comprising nearly 22 minutes. Bass, an R&B and gospel singer by trade and Lester Bowie's wife at the time, adds a wonderful theatrical and sonic dimension to the Art Ensemble's creative juggernaut. "How Strange" begins with an African chant by Joseph Jarman and Bass. As the instruments enter in earnest, one can hear traces of "Round Midnight" waft through the background and then the musical reality play is off an running. Bass sings, roars, growls, chants and spits poetry, becoming another fiery instrument in the band's arsenal. On "Horn, Webb," Don Moye kicks it with a trap drum solo. For nearly four minutes before the tack comes to a standstill and the horns of Jarman, Bowie and Roscoe Mitchell come in, blaring in unison before the work becomes a long, spacious textural study with many dynamic and colorful shifts along the way. Thirty-six years later, this piece still sounds fresh, new, full of inquiry and excitement. This set stands the test of time beautifully. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Universal Music Division Decca Records France

By 1971, the Art Ensemble of Chicago had become true denizens of the city of Paris and its environ. Regularly playing and recording, they were able to delve deeply into their Great Black Music aesthetic and explore not only the boundaries of free jazz, but also the intricate demands of African folk forms in improvisation. Dynamic, long a part of the AEC's M.O., had become a dominant methodology for the group, as had textural interplay, and nowhere are these more evident than on Phase One. Issued in 1971 on the French America Records imprint, this set has been reissued over a dozen times on LP and CD. Texture and dynamic are elegantly employed as a way of bringing the music from the quintet gradually, allowing it to unfold itself inside the framework of a composition as it does on the uncharacteristically hard swinging "Ohnedaruth." A long, slow spacious saxophone intro winds in the melodic themes before the three horns jump out and start the true head before it gives way to soloing and free improvisation. On "Lebert Aaly," (dedicated to the late Albert Ayler) a sparse, utterly gentle introduction gives way to utterly beguiling harmonic interplay between Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman. Malachi Favors' bowed bass offers the root to which all the players return and embark from as the band moves off into very free directions, all the while retaining an elemental sense of melodic engagement. Don Moye enters in earnest at about nine-minutes in and the entire proceeding takes on an even slower, random feel before the percussion disappears and the tonal inquiry reappears. It's gorgeous. This is one of the least well-known recordings by the AEC, but it is also one of their most enduring and a true high mark from their Paris period. © Thom Jurek /TiVo
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Jazz - Released April 23, 2018 | ITM

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Jazz - Released January 1, 2004 | Universal Music Division Decca Records France

A classic, with spicy and frenetic solos one moment, comic overtones and clever melodies and rhythms the next. The Art Ensemble at this point were becoming stars overseas, and finding the going increasingly tougher in America. It's outside or avant-garde jazz with soul, heart, and funk. © Ron Wynn /TiVo
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Jazz - Released March 28, 2006 | Charly Records

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Jazz - Released June 30, 2017 | Pi Recordings