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Clip: After setbacks, Art Ensemble of Chicago sounds reasons for hope

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  • Carl Zimring
    After the sad Elvin Jones news, and after hearing that Ray Charles is in pretty frail shape, I want to post this somewhat sunnier review of the surviving Art
    Message 1 of 1 , May 3, 2004
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      After the sad Elvin Jones news, and after hearing that Ray Charles is in
      pretty frail shape, I want to post this somewhat sunnier review of the
      surviving Art Ensemble members' performance.

      Carl Z.

      ***

      http://www.suntimes.com/output/jazz/cst-ftr-jazz03.html

      After setbacks, Art Ensemble of Chicago sounds reasons for hope

      May 3, 2004

      BY KEVIN WHITEHEAD

      The University of Chicago's Mandel Hall is home turf to the Art Ensemble of
      Chicago. The flagship group of the city's '60s avant-garde used to play in
      a student union in the building before relocating to Paris in 1969. Three
      years later, they recorded the belated homecoming "Live at Mandel Hall" for
      Delmark.

      Friday night they returned, to a house packed with well-wishers and jazz
      dignitaries. Expectations were high. So were the stakes.

      In recent years the AEC has suffered the deaths of two original members,
      trumpeter and jester Lester Bowie in 1999 and bassist Malachi Favors
      Maghostut in January. And on two CDs released in 2003, "Tribute to Lester"
      and "The Meeting," the band sounded creatively exhausted.

      Still, there were reasons for hope. Co-founder Joseph Jarman has returned
      after a long absence, and for this gig fellow saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell
      recruited two of his frequent collaborators, bassist Jaribu Shahid and
      Chicago trumpeter Corey Wilkes.

      Also aboard, from Mali, was Baba Sissoko, who sang and played in more or
      less traditional West African style. His instruments are a small,
      two-stringed lute, a n'goni, and an hourglass-shaped "talking drum."

      The music, like the stage, was dominated by Mitchell's, Jarman's and Moye's
      vast percussion racks.

      Within a long introduction, there were slow progressions from lower to
      higher pitches and spare to dense textures, proof of the close listening
      needed to pull off such airy improvising.

      As ever, their set was punctuated by louder percussion jams. These segments
      were well integrated with the jazzier, horn-oriented stuff, and, at times,
      the thunder of multiple drummers behind a saxophone solo was quite
      thrilling.

      The Art Ensemble sounded revitalized, but still, Bowie's irreverent brand
      of neo-minstrel comedy died with him. Mitchell's careening,
      perpetual-motion saxophone solos were inspiring, and he blended very well
      with Wilkes, who gently echoed Bowie's bent notes and blown raspberries
      without sacrificing his own brasher high-note style.

      Jarman, alas, declined to join their jousts; every time he began to engage
      the other horns he quickly shied away

      Did the Art Ensemble break new ground? Not really. Did they deserve the
      crowd's thunderous ovations? Not entirely. Was the concert way livelier
      than last year's CDs? Absolutely.

      Kevin Whitehead is a jazz critic for National Public Radio's "Fresh Air."
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