Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris review – devoted heirs carry the torch | Music
LLong ago, I wrote in the Guardian that a 1980 London performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago – Lester Bowie (trumpet), Joseph Jarman (saxes), Malachi Favors Maghostut (bass), Roscoe Mitchell (sax and composition) and Famoudou Don Moye (percussion) – had felt “like a sermon, a drama … and a history lesson all at once”. The late great American jazz sage Nat Hentoff went further, suggesting the band was “reaching back conceptually to long before there ever was anything called jazz, and moving toward a future beyond category.”
The Sixth Decade From Paris to Paris album artwork.
The words could have been a blueprint for this 50th anniversary Art Ensemble set, recorded at France’s festival Sons d’Hiver in 2020 and led by Mitchell and Moye, the band’s surviving elders. For the project, they brought a 20-piece international chamber orchestra into the fold. The new formation includes contemporary-classical progressives and Art Ensemble-inspired improvisers alike, such as poet and musician Camae Ayewa, AKA Moor Mother, a polemical vocalist with young Afrofuturist collective Irreversible Entanglements.
Among hardcore free-blowing and delicate sound-into-silence tiptoeings, Mitchell’s wistfully lyrical Leola becomes a pulsating low-register drone, aided by a swathe of cymbal showers, classical-choral voices, and rousing spoken word from Ayewa. Other highlights include the coolly swinging Kumpa (by Senegalese griot and AEC sidekick Dudu Kouate), the riffy electric groover Funky AECO, the slinkily bass-walking Ensemble signature theme Odwalla, and much more. It’s heartwarming to hear the AEC’s devoted heirs so ready to carry the story on.
So out this week
Swedish bassist/composer Anders Jormin‘s subtle two-decade collaboration with vocalist and violinist Lena Willmark – the terms “jazz” and “folk’” touch on their identities but never constrain them – was extended in 2015 to include Karen Nakagawa, a virtuoso of the thrillingly ringing Japanese koto zither. Pasado en Claro (ECM), with longtime Jormin drums sidekick Jon Faltfeatures softly impassioned vocals amid abstract sound worlds, gently prancing dances, and whispered singing entwined with bass-improv counterpoint.
Snarky Puppy Dynamos Bill Laurance and Michael League show how rich their non-Snarky life can be as a mostly acoustic duo (playing African and Mediterranean stringed instruments, including the oud in League’s case) on Where You Wish You Were (ACT), a set of melodically seductive, rhythmically vivacious originals.
Young UK expat saxophonist George Winstonmeanwhile, joins resourceful American effects guitarist Ben Monder for a promising all-improv set of Coltranesque sax-ballad soulfulness, ghostly Celtic-piper-like calls and haunting if occasionally becalmed contemplation on Odysseus, available on Bandcamp.