Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"We speak of the Art Ensemble of Chicago circa 2003 as being in a post-Lester Bowie era. The group's mighty founder and trumpeter passed away in 1999. Meanwhile, this recording and the trio session Tribute To Lester (ECM 2003) have been the only AEC recordings made in this new era.
But you may remember that the AEC was once distinguished as pre- and post-Joseph Jarman when he left the band in 1993. His return here doesn't substitute for Bowie's absence, it merely aims the music in different directions.
Jarman's Buddhist studies of the past ten years are readily apparent from the opening track, a vocal praise of his Dharma path and quest for enlightenment. The boppish tune exemplifies AEC's diverse sources for inspiration and content. The second track goes on to a 19-minute mostly free piece with each member playing lengthy percussive solos that come together in a group contemplative resolution of sound.
The ability to match foot-tapping compositions, like their nod to hip-hop on "Tech Ritter and the Megabytes" and open meditations on "Wind and Drum" with its bells and flutes, exemplifies the wide-ranging genius of this working ensemble. What AEC displays after all these years is a thorough knowledge of improvisation based both on noise and silence.
The title track, by Roscoe Mitchell , exorcises the demons of both sound and pulse with Jarman and Mitchell blowing over powerful waves of energy summoned by Moye and Favors. They then shift into their infamous "plays with toys" on "Amin Bidness" when the bells, recorders and hand drumming begins. Where these sounds usually come off best in live encounters with AEC, the excellent recording here separates players and leaves the listener in a dreamy elated state.
Magnet (p.118) - "[A] multi-textured aural tapestry..."
CMJ (9/29/03, p.27) - "...As always, no one can touch the band's unique mix of jazz and traditional African and Asian folk music."
JazzTimes (11/03, p.98) - "The overlapping of Jarman's wood flutes and Mitchell's recorders enhances the watercolorlike delicacy of 'Wind and Drum'..."
Art Ensemble Of Chicago: Roscoe Mitchell (sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor & bass saxophones, flute, piccolo, bass recorder, percussion); Joseph Jarman (sopranino, alto & tenor saxophones, flute, bass flute, wooden flute, sopranino clarinet, whistle, bells, gongs, percussion); Malachi Favors (bass, percussion); Don Moye (drums, African drums, bongos, congas).
Recorded at Audio For The Arts, Madison, Wisconsin.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Joseph Jarman.
Personnel: Joseph Jarman (whistling, flute, bass flute, wooden flute, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion, bells, gong); Roscoe Mitchell (flute, piccolo, recorder, bass recorder, soprano saxophone, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass saxophone); Don Moye (drums, congas, bongos); Malachi Favors Maghostus (percussion).
Audio Mixers: Buzz Kemper; Steve Gotcher.
Recording information: Audio for the Arts, Madison, WI.
Editors: Buzz Kemper; Steve Gotcher.
Photographer: Joseph Blough.
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