A discography 1966-1973
Words: Gian Paolo Galasi
First recorded material coming out of the AEC sessions is 1966 Roscoe Mitchell Sextet "Sound"; the LP was issued on Delmark, since when run in Chicago by Bob Koester in 1953 a blues-devoted label. Chuck Nessa, just arrived there in April 1966 from Iowa City to manage Jazz Record Mart, Delmark's store, read a couple of Pete Welding's articles about the AACM in Downbeat Magazine, and when on place saw live sets by the musicians that some months later will lead to put on vynil the aforementioned album.
"Sound", rapidly followed by Joseph Jarman's "As if it were the Seasons" and "Song For", Anthony Braxton's "3 Compositions of New Jazz", Muhal Richard Abrahms' "Levels And Degrees of Light" and Kalaparusha Maurice McIntyre's "Forces and Feelings", was AACM first and yet accomplished statement about the new aesthetics.
The record is opened by 'Ornette', a piece dedicated to Texan altoist, in which r&b shrugs (McIntyre on tenor), intertwining bass lines (Malachi Favors with Lester Lashley on cello), colourful, pointillistic and hard-grooving drums (Alvin Fielder), Lester Bowie's flamboyant trumpet and Roscoe's provocative woodwinds were openly paying homage to the maestro while at the same time were posing themselves as new cornerstones for the music to come.
"distortion is the medium of communication, as the players create in overtones, harmonics tones, imprecise pitch, high and low tones that extend the ranges of the instruments" (John Litweiler, The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958, Poole, Doorset: Blandford Press, 1985)
'The Little Suite' is 'a suite of colors […], a rural Halloween, ritual march of children on the way to mischief', as J.B. Figi put it on the original liner notes; in fact this composition will be model for all the similar pieces, like 'A Jackson In your House', in which marching band music is stretched, enlarged, with an accent on grothesque very similar to that of Captain Beefheart re-contextualizations of the blues.
More colours were added to the piece thanks of harmonica, clarinet, whistles, interspersing here and there the music with ritual elements to reach an onomatopoeic effect, while in 'Sound' we're brought in fields more related to contemporary music de-contextualization by what would become from now on AEC's constant effort to put a ritual attention on music by the listener with the use of bells, half-filled water-cans, rattles, and the likes.
In the previous article Jospeph Jarman's first solo efforts were yet commented, just to point out how much his 'little instruments' were fittingly and coherently in line with what John Litweiler would describe in his "The Freedom Principle: Jazz after 1958" (New York: Da Capo Press, 1984), as "the discovery of space". But first record in which four original future Art Ensemble (Mitchell, Jarman, Bowie, Favors) played together was 1967 Lester Bowie's "Numbers 1 & 2".
The record was released under new Nessa label, created under Roscoe Mitchell suggestion by Chuck Nessa himself. All material recorded by future AEC was reissued in 1993 on a 5CD box set (now unluckily unavailable) titled "1967/1968 The Art Ensemble", in which Mitchell "Congliptious" and "Old/Quartet", Bowie "Number 1 & 2" and previously unreleased material were collected together and digitally published for the first time. The box in currently out of print, while single outputs, reissued singularly by Delmark under Nessa's supervision on 1998, are still available.
All elements of AEC music were brought together here to their higher levels. 'The suspension of the rhythmic articulation through a continuous patchwork […]; extended solo performance on monophonic woodwind instruments […], mockery on jazz establishment'. (Francesco Martinelli, "Art Ensemble of Chicago", Musica Jazz, 2003)
In 'Jazz Death?', from 1968 "Congliptious", recorded under the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, Lester Bowie asked the question' Is jazz, as we know it, dead?', answering, at the end of his solo trumpet lines coming out back and forth from the stereo channels, 'it depends on how many things you know'.
Maybe to know more, in August 1969 Bowie convinced his fellows to go to Paris. As many before them (Dexter Gordon, Bud Powell), AACM members were hoping to find a finally more open-minded audience and a wider distribution for their music and records. There, Jean-Luc Young and Jean Georgakarakos were organizing the Actuel Festival (named after their jazz magazine) in order to collect money to run their own label, BYG, with friend Jean-Luc Young.
While the label would document further exhibitions of AEC members and other free jazz musicians like Archie Shepp, Don Cherry, Alan Silva, Sun Ra, Sonny Murray and Steve Lacy, their performance at the American Center for Students and Artists put confusion on journalists minds. In fact the Roscoe Mitchell Quartet, added with Anthony Braxton and Steve McCall, would be named as AACM on Jazz Magazine by Paul Alessandrini.
Later on, the name "The Art Ensemble -- Of Chicago" as put on bills, will became the official name under which records like "A Jackson in your House", "Message to Our Folks" and "Reese and the Smooth Ones" were issued by the French label, as Freedom/Arista "Tutankhaman", "The Spiritual" and Pathé's "Les Stances A Sophie" and "People in Sorrow".
More than 20 records were issued by the AEC during his stay in Paris. The ones quoted here above are the most important. "A Jackson in Your House" is opened by a title track in which little instruments introduced a stranded Dixieland song, while 'Get in Line' is parodistically evoking a disastrous and out of discipline squad.
Maybe aware of the difficulties for listeners to follow on record a set that, performed on stage, is supported by masks - Bowie with a white goan and stethoscope, Favors and Jarman with Afrikan signs on face and sometimes half-naked, Mitchell dressed as an American bourgeois tourist - and by the intimate climate created by percussions at the beginning of every exhibitions, AEC opted on record for using Jarman's poems like 'Ericka', gospel-like choruses - as 'Old Time Religion' on "Message to our Folks" - and short dialogues Beckett-style in order to give music an open legibility and a more narrative setting.
"People in Sorrow", a 40 minutes length suite divided on two parts on record and the soundtrack for the movie "Les Stances A Sophie" are probably the most beautiful outputs of AEC's Paris period. In both records eastern-like statements were stressed more than in previous records. Since the beginning of their activity some of the members compositions - Lester Bowie's 'Number 1' being a good example - presented a horn line acting like a drone, with multi-octave effects-like in order to give the music a polytonal structure on which the other musicians can improvise.
But in 'Theme de l'amour universel' this structure was directly related to Eastern music, with a great work on tabla and pipes, and an arcoed bass directly droning in answer. While Fontella Bass and Famoudou Don Moye joined the band, giving a more refined brilliancy and fluidity and introducing a new reliability on both soul / r&b ('Les Stances A Sophie') and classical baroque music ('Variations sur un theme de Monteverdi'), as a result of a more confidential approach to established styles of music, French stay is interrupted after AEC appearance in Radio Louxembourg.
Here, the Radio Broadcaster introduced the musicians asserting their connivance with the Black Panther Party, that since 1967 was obtaining consent between European revolutionary movements and intellectuals, said that French writer Jean Genet became directly friend with Angela Davis during the shooting for a film based on both biographies by director Roger Vadim.
But for the musicians, that meant the beginning of permanent control by French police over their incomes and relationships up to a point in which, after the constant control of their permissions to make concerts and the seizing of their instruments from their apartment in Saint Leu sur la Foret, Bowie - initially fervently promoting their Parisian diaspora - and fellows decided to come back in America.
Newly residing in Chicago, the AEC put a couple of important records for Atlantic, a major label responsible for the success of both Ray Charles and John Coltrane before the latter moved on Impulse!. On "Fanfare for the warrior" the AEC is supported by Muhal Richard Abrams on piano. The cover is showing on a bright red field an ancient warrior mask, while 'Illinstrium' opened the record with a Jarman poem hymning to Odwalla, a warrior idol, and to transformation and transcendence.
Following, 'Barnyard Scuffel Shuffel' - a shuffle, indeed, with the horns freely and atonally speaking out loud over bass line, with piano and drums square and fast rhythms, and a beautiful quintet rendition of 'Noonah', one of Mitchell's first compositions. 'What's to Say' is a brazilian-like free form experiment, while 'Tnoona' is full of circular breathing and microtonal intervals and Abrahms on piano shows his full mastery as a pointillistic and improvising reincarnation of Debussy's idea of impressionism.
Recorded at the Ann Arbour Blues and Jazz Festival in 1972, introduced to the audience by John Sinclair, poet and intellectual, friend of Allen Ginsberg and Stokely Carmichael - the activist and honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party - and featuring Muddy Waters alumnus and sonic terrorist with the electric Miles Davis band Reggie Lucas on console, "Bap-Tizum" is the best live statement of the Art Ensemble captured up to there.
The sound of the band is balancing in more quiet, meditative setting as in 'Unanka' Malachi / Mitchell duet, or in lullaby-like 'Immm', while Bowie lyrical statements and half-valves explorations are less directly patchworked within a group layering, serving more as introduction than directly involved in a post-modern like flux, while the ten minutes long 'Onedarut' is still reminiscent of past blasts and intertwining, and 'Odwalla', in a version totally different than in the previous records, start to be the final signature of AEC live shows.
Finally the five musicians started experimenting and widening their own paths to music. Roscoe Mitchell created the Sound And Space Ensemble, widening his palettes for wind instruments, percussions and voice. More later, he would start to collaborate with contemporary composer/accordionist Pauline Oliveros, and baritone Thomas Buckner, working also in the electroacustic improvisation with Evan Parker since 2008.
Lester Bowie gave shape to the Brass Fantasy, with which he worked on traditional jazz repertoire. and pop music. Famoudou Don Moye with the Percussion Summit came into gospel and African heritage, while Joseph Jarman, after ECM records and related tour, became a follower of Zen meditation and started his Aikido dojo - a non-invasive martial art - training center.
But the AEC history is alive still today even after Bowie's departure in 1999 and Favors' in 2004. Trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Sahid, both AACM alumni (the latter also a member of Roscoe Mitchell's Note Factory).
Art Ensemble of Chicago Discography: