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27 July 2009

Astral Blessing (Mad Monk)

Some Sunburned Hand guys are in this band, I think; Astral Blessing is a free rock guitar-based ensemble. Two side-long improvisations with guitar squeals galore and swirling messes of fuzz, avoiding crunchy Sabbathy riffs in favor of flowery, organic soundrings. Side one is almost hilariously lo-fi, not distorted but just thin. It begins with echoing guitars that ring out a lot before the rhythm section kicks in, and it builds up to something nice but there's altogether no focus. But that's the idea, right? Side two is a bit better sounding and follows a similar pattern, and at some point you realise that it's not hard to listen to and it's actually pretty good, like listening to an anti-jam band jamming. There's a short track at the end, a nice coda to what we've heard before; it's intensely nervous, a buildup to some release that never comes. And it kinda reminds me of 90s guitar indie bands like Come or Crain or something, though I'm sure they weren't going for that. I'm not sure how this ended up in my collection and it's not something I ever have the desire to listen to, but as another vinyl byproduct of the free-folk/psych thing that was big a few years ago, I guess it's a nicely electrified version of it.

21 July 2009

Robert Ashley - 'Automatic Writing' (Lovely Music)

Listening to this record essentially twice in a row (I mean, I slept a night in-between) is a bit like subjecting yourself to sleep deprivation. The mumbling and groans here may have actually been recorded while Ashley was sleeping, and the synth tones in the background (not to mention the distant rhythm as described on Elbowed Cinderblocks) give it a dream house quality. I didn't say anything about the cover art last time, which I also think is brilliant. Because it sounds like your neighbor is having a party, I always associated this record with casual living - beaches, button-down short-sleeve shirts that are open a few buttons, ya know. Besides my obvious LP bias this wins out over the CD, DESPITE having to be flipped, because it's presented as one complete work, without the weird rape explorations of the CD bonus tracks. Plus you get a 27-minute LP side without any apparent compromise of sound quality (I mean, the whole record is low volume to begin with). And like great ambient records, or Rafael Toral's Wave Field, this is amazing at a low volume yet if you crank it up there's more goodies inside. And to be honest, when Ashley and Mimi Johnson shut up and just the synth intervals take over, it kinda reminds me a bit of Talk Talk's Spirit of Eden, specifically the parts where the clouds part and the voice of God rings down. Except here it's the lack of voice that make things so holy. Not that I'm reading anything particularly spiritual or liturgical into this beast.

19 July 2009

Arti e Mestieri - 'Quinto Stato' (Cramps)

Oh yes, now I remember why I keep Tilt in my accumulation -- because compared to Quinto Stato, it's a fucking masterpiece. Now I try to resist the prevailing prejudices of our time when listening to music. For example certain styles of music might be seen as "cheesy" right now that will probably be popular again in a few years. It's hard not to have your tastes dictated by your formative early years, and to fight against those tastes and see the true artistic value of something like, I dunno, David Sanborn records (which bear an uncanny resemblance to Quinto Stato, not in style but in effect). And I think I've already shown across the last 56 posts that I am quite forgiving of prog/fusion/whatever excesses. (Get used to it, cause we're going to encounter a lot more before we hit Z.) But try as I might, I just can't find anything redeeming about this album. I purchased it no doubt alongside Tilt, thinking I was scoring two awesome Italian prog records at once (when the reality is that I ended up with about 0.4 records worth of decency). This is a few years later, by which point the band has augmented themselves with one Rudy Passuello to sing on 3 songs, transforming the commercial tendencies of their jazz-fusion sound into full-blown pop-fusion. I made a promise that I would listen to the entirety of every LP in the accumulation for Dislocated Underbite Spinal Alphabetical Encourager Templates, and I have stuck to it. But this one was by far the most difficult to complete. Passuello's voice is nothing special, but it really hurts in the context of the rest of the band. On 'Vicolo' he's relegated to the bassoon, which is called 'fagotto' in Italian - I promised myself I wasn't going to point that out, but I couldn't resist. So what is redeeming about this LP? The photos! Whether it's supposed to be tongue-in-cheek or not, I can't tell, both the gatefold and inner sleeve are adorned with photos of the band looking tough, smoking joints, and best of all, taking a piss against the wall while flipping off the camera. The bird-flipper is wearing a studded leader vest in all the photos, adorned with a moustache, chains and rings and looking rather like an overweight Italian version of Lemmy. In one photo he's even lifted his shirt up to show us his beer belly. I'm hoping this is Mr. Passeullo himself, but the credits are ambiguous. The photos are amazing, particularly given how un-tough the music is, but it's not enough to save Quinto Stato from my "get rid of" pile. Offers are accepted via the comments feature, of course.

Arti e Mestieri - 'Tilt' (Cramps)

Funny how my entire accumulation of Cramps-label Italian prog pretty much resides on one shelf, in the Ar section specifically. Arti and Mestieri's debut LP looked like a sure thing when I stumbled across it - great Crampsy sleeve design with that pop art-cum-Futurist feel, lots of Italian names I didn't recognize, and the presence of a Mellotron. I was probably expecting something as far out and fucked up as Area's most adventurous records, but instead I got a gentle, pop side of jazz/rock fusion. There's a smoother feel, more focus on strings and horns, and a textural quality that sits well like an after-dinner mint. 'Gravità 9,81' opens the album and sets the pace with its hot saxophone solo over bouncy bass guitar riffs. Yes, this is fusion - perhaps the "dark side of fusion", a term which refers not to the sonorities expressed through the music but rather as a judgement of taste. My own tastes tend to have a weakness for grilled cheese sandwiches, if prepared on a George Foreman, ya follow? This is more of a Jaffle maker approach, though there's a few biting electric guitar solos and chiming, "sunrise" moments that pack a bit of punch. 'In Cammamino' has a breakdown that reminds me of the kind of live band you'd see playing in a New York department store for free, at lunch time, during the Christmas shopping season in the 1950s. It immediately dips back into electric piano jerkoffs and slightly-Seinfeldian bass slaps, creating an unintentionally hilarious effect. I'm not that sold on this record and it's probably been in my vinyl accumulation for so long because of a) the cover art, b) the Cramps label 'cred' and c) these few nice juxtapositions. Not to mention that my accumulation was in storage for a few years, so there ya go. The big 13-minute 'Articolazioni' has that National Health vibe, with cleaner violins (or is it a viola?) but even through it's own busy-ass drumming and slow chordal ascension it feels like 'more of the same'.

Art Zoyd - 'Syphonie pour le jour du bruleront les cities' (Cryonic, Inc.)

1980 is an odd year. A friend of mine has this theory that 1980 was neither part of the 70's nor the 80's. He would argue this if presented with any photo, of anything, from 1980, pointing out how fashion was in this weird in-between period (specifically citing sleeve lengths, I think) and popular music felt similarly stuck between the dying throws of disco and the new-wave identity still being worked out. It stood alone. This is all horseshit I heard over a plate of baba ghanouj about 10 years ago so I'm probably misquoting it, but it stuck with me. After all, what are we to make of this weird Art Zoyd record from the same time? Weird, because it's not all that weird. It's intense and theatrical but you'd expect that; there's synthesisers but playing fairly conventional, and second fiddle to dissonant string glissandos. It's Lois Vierk taking out the washing, tripping on 'Masques' weird trumpet improvisations and floating up on tightly composed chordal platforms, like the ones in old Nintendo Mario games that raise and lower on their own, making you time your jumps just right. Though we're assaulted with 'crazy' vocalising as soon as we drop the needle, most of this record is instrumental. Dark, yes; cloudy, sinister, like the backgroup to The Crow II, yes; but strangely it's not even a little bit laughable. Prog's excesses, even to fans like me, have to cause you to grin sometimes, but this feels more pitched on a neoclassical needle than the wizards and Tarkus-things so commonly derided. Maybe it's just the inherent Frenchness causing some distance for me. But this is what I've always associated with French prog - it's no less technically impressive than its British or Italian counterparts, but it lacks that Dionysian edge. These guys are serious and they find excitement in their compositions - because there are surprisingly few 'solos' here. The rebellion is maybe against the freewheelin' flaneur, savoir faire, je ne sais quoi stereotypes we have of the French - these guys are les seriouxes. The 1980 sound is in the production - it's loud and close, with almost no percussion and a glassy sheen on everything, anticipating later 80's treatment of synths and guitars but not quite there yet. And this is supposedly Rock in Opposition but it sounds more like punchy chamber music to me.

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Chi-Congo' (Paula)

This is sadly the final Art Ensemble of Chicago record we'll be exploring, and I placed it here because some online discography placed it after Fanfare for the Warriors, though I now see this has a copyright date of 1973 and Fanfare is '74, so I most likely screwed up! Dusty Groove calls this 'a lost chapter' and maybe that's a good one; they're right in that it's closer to the open-form style of the Paris years, though Don Moye (misspelled here as Moxe, kinda like that weird medicinal soda they love in Maine) rocks the fuck out, and the opening track resembles the drum circle mode of Bap-Tizum (though significantly more tentative and, I daresay, amateurish). Roscoe Mitchell's pieces comprise 75% of this and 'Enlorfe' is a real winner, split over both LP sides and featuring some nervous-ass Jarman soprano while Favors and Moye accelerate to an outer dimension. Mitchell moves to the steel drums over some repetetive hole digging by the rhythm section and makes things into a buzzing perpipatetic run-on sentence. At the end it slows down to a thick drone, almost remniscent of 'Tnoona' but then flurrying back to life at the end. I'm a bit sad to leave the Art Ensemble of Chicago (though excited for a change in the Underbite). The crazy thing is that after 24 LP sides and 4 more on CD, we haven't even covered their whole career - just a middle part of it. Their pre-Paris, earliest recordings, which were released on a super hard to find box set, are a thing of wonder though I have only experienced them in the non-physical form. (The blog where I review my mp3 collection in alphabetical order will not be started until, I dunno, 2013 or so). And for some reason I don't have any of their later records for ECM, even though they're pretty easy to find and a few of them (Full Force in particular) rank among their best-ever work. But there's a real difference between 28 sides of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and 28 sides of, say, The Fall, or Kiss or something. Not that I don't like The Fall or Kiss - I do, in the case of the Fall quite a lot - but the inherent diversity of avant-garde jazz means there's going to be a lot more surprises among 28 sides of the Art Ensemble. Now this might be a bit of a fetishisation of the genre, like an attempt to fight my 'rockist' urges and associate a sophistication to this 'other' music - and I'm aware of it! I mean, I've read Carducci and I certainly agree with him on a lot of points (though not all the stuff about gay people, I mean that's just out-of-line) and I really do often wonder if I fall into that particularly as I (like most of ya kids, unless your Dad is John Corbett or something) grew up with rock first and came to 'other' musics in my late adolescence. Because the development of The Fall across 54 LP sides might be an even greater thing to experience, as the variations will be more subtle. Cause it's hard for me to even really say what I've learned from the AEoC Gauntlet I just finished. Despite the compositional basis to these records, it's hard for me to say what distinguishes a Joseph Jarman jam from, say, a Roscoe Mitchell one. Whereas any fool can listen to a Sebadoh record once and know the difference between Lou Barlow and Eric Gaffney's songs, right? Of course there's a lot more freedom/improvisation present in the works of Jarman, Mitchell etc and that makes things a bit more difficult. But maybe that's also what makes it feel so much more dynamic overall. Am I just stating the obvious and sounding idiotic again? It's hard to say because my head actually kinda hurts from all of this AACM theorizin'. When I got into this band it was like being touched by the Hand of God, but then again I used to feel that Touch quite often in those days, when everything was being blown wide open again and again, like an artificial ski slope eternally rolling downhill. But I would have died to see them live, particularly as their theatrical costumes, paint, and antics were allegedly an antidote for the dullness of much other contemporary jazz, visually. At the time the band was pretty much defunct - Bowie died just about that time and Joseph Jarman had retired, running a karate dojo just down the street from my friend's place in Brooklyn. Now I believe they're active again, with some new members, and I'd certainly go if it was local or cheap but it's pretty clear I missed my chance. But how many groups today are there, blending theatre, tradition, and radically groundbreaking assaults on theatre and tradition, that I am also missing the chance to experiencein their prime? I think not that many, but then again, what do I know?

18 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Fanfare for the Warriors' (Atlantic Jazzlore)

There's something a little bit different about this album and I think it might have to do with move to Atlantic records, a proper major label. Yes, this is the "big studio" record, I guess, even though most of their other albums were recorded in a studio. There is something very classy and shiny at play here but it works well, almost too perfectly. Fanfare for the Warriors opens with Malachi Favors' 'Illistrum', an abstract bit of atonal 20th century art-pomp with dramatic spoken whatzit, and from the first resounding piano chord of guest artist Muhal Richard Abrams, we're pretty much aware that this is a grant statement. Everything sounds bright, alive like great jazz should, though not "live" like the last few records. Lester Bowie's 'Baryard Scuffel Shuffel' takes a ragtimish theme and decorates it with lopsided anarchy; it's a statement of his interest in traditional/Dixieland forms but integrated into a deconstructive group method. But it's Roscoe Mitchell's 'Tnoona' that blew my young mind when I first encountered it. The Art Ensemble sorta bridged the gap between minimalism and free jazz with this track, a fecund interstate highway in the direction of an unrealised potential for What Jazz Could Be. It's like the jazz Soliloquy for Lilith, or maybe I should say Salt Marie Celeste. I know I'm prone to overdo the superlatives but of all the tracks we've spun in the last few months, this is truly one of the greatest -- and there's been a lot of great ones so far. It bubbles, purrs and leaks, threatening to explode but staying under tight control. Which makes the jaunty 'The Key', also by Mitchell, feel so much more like a release at the end. Jarman's title track should also get mention here - it has a sinister edge we haven't really heard before, but then again, these are warriors we're talking about.

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Bap-Tizum' (Atlantic)

This is a pretty much complete performance of the Art Ensemble of Chicago from the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, a festival that I think my own father actually attended though I'm not exactly sure which year he went, and neither is he. My rock'n'roll-hatin, Cuban heel-wearing Daddy (probably actually classified as a Daddy-O at the time) may have loathed Keith Richards with all of his gusto but I think he was OK with free jazz. At least, I found Ornette Live at the Golden Circle, Stockholm vol. 2 in his collection and he told me he used to have a Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (but alas, we couldn't locate it nor could he remember which volume it was). I guess it was crazy shit for him to dig on in those days, thankfully free from the raping-of-blues that he equated with all rock music -- and I mean all, as Dad honestly doesn't even know who Bono is in 2009, which is a feat of cultural isolation that is pretty admirable if you ask me. He woulda gone to Michigan to see the actual "blues" content of that festival, but this Great Black Music (as the cover reminds us) isn't too far of a stretch from Leadbelly or Blind Willie anybody. John Sinclair introduces the band before they start, so you can hear the correct way to pronounce "Bowie". Then they launch into the first recorded Don Moye composition we've come across, 'Nfamoudou - Boudougou'. And surprise - it's an explosive drum circle freakout that rattles the skeletal system deep down to the marrow. As the band shifts through a pretty solid, representative set we hear some deep droning bass bowing with a little bit of static from the surface noise of the record that makes some passages feel like an industrial film soundtrack or something.... Side two has 'Ohnedaruth', the Jarman composition I thought might be mislabeled on Phase One but it turns out the labels were right - this is a hard-rocking jam that has some awesome sounding marimba. The closing piece is 'Odawlla', by Roscoe Mitchell, which is a fairly traditional, melodic sounding composition with lovely bluesy chords - perhaps a request of the festival? It's really touching and Lester Bowie is hella expressive here and when it comes to a conclusion the 10,000 concertgoers can barely contain themselves. You can just feel the wave of triumph that these guys musta been riding after this performance. I think I used to have this one on CD, maybe even purchased new on a mid-price Atlantic reish before I upgraded to this format. But you know, I can't actually remember.

17 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Live at Mandel Hall' (Delmark)

Hey everyone, the kids have come home! Back in the town where they belong, and on the label where they probably belong too. And just look what they've learned from their lengthy Euro residency! This is the 8th consecutive Art Ensemble album I've listened to in a row, and the second double live album, but it still sounds fresh. I feel my love of All Things AACM growing with every recorded moment. See, this is the first AEoC I ever heard, tho on the CD format (which I believe concatenated this one long performance together as one 75-minute track). On vinyl things can open up and breathe a bit, though there are some awkward pauses in the middle of the jams, when you have to change records in the middle of a squaking horn freakout. But it's all here, pretty much. Almost every trick and idea we've heard in the Paris recordings comes back at some point in this long improvised melee. The weird hulking vocals are there, some hypnotic traditional African percussion, and some proper jazz as well. It's all so dense, yet it feels light as air. By the time the record is over, it's like it never even happened. And even a slight warpage on the outer regions of plate #2 can't stop me from being totally amazed at music this 'of the moment' - music that has evacuated my brain already and making me struggle to describe it, just minutes after it's been experienced. So I'm going to cop out on this one, figuring I deserve it by now.

15 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Phase One' (America)

America Records is actually a French label but the liner notes don't tell us where this was recorded. The title could mean many things - some intergalactic plan to rule the world, or some special instructions for hooking up your speakers in some Brian Eno method - but really I think it's misleading, cause this sounds to me like the beginning of phase TWO for the AE of C. The record opens with Jarman's 'Ohnedaruth', a swirling mass of oceanic cymbals that explodes into full-on, free, loft-style blowing -- and it never lets up. There's solo after solo and the guys sound great but the intensity never lets up and it becomes a bit, I dunno, horizontal? Bowie somehow manages to sound a bit richer than the rest though maybe that's just my bias. The second side is a tribute to Albert Ayler wonderfully titled 'Lebert Aaly', except it makes me think that my sides might be mislabeled. Cause, the rocking reverberations on 'Ohnedaruth' sound more like the ESP-styled Ayler records, almost like these genre-busters are dipping into a genre to show their affection for the then-just-deceased Cleveland gale. 'Lebert Aaly' would actually resemble a Jarman composition more, with it's open cadences, thick chords, and careful pauses. It's definitely more on the modern classical tip and why would you compose a tribute to Ayler in that style? It's not a eulogisin' piece, at least not to these ears. But that doesn't mean I don't think it's beautiful and dynamic and shows (on yet another LP) a different side of these dudes from the 11 sides we've already heard.

9 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Les Stances a Sophie' (Nessa)

This seems to be one of the more popular Art Ensemble of Chicago records, though I doubt that anyone has seen the film of which it's the soundtrack to. There's a good reason for this enduring popularity of this record - it fucking slays, and opens with 'Theme de Yoyo', a rolling fun jam with Fontella Bass's playful lyrics. It's certainly odd hearing these guys laying down a straight pop song - even straighter than the Brigitte Fontaine material - but it's full of soul and energy, and it's bouncyness seems to suit the band well. This is the first time we get Don Moye in the band, though he hasn't really hit his stride -- he is simply the drummer here, not yet ready to put on the facepaint himself. But really, this is the least facepainty AE of C record out there. The slow, neoclassical steps taken in the middle of this record have a cool, modal detachment that suggests they were watching a lot of Nouvelle Vague films during their stay; not having seen 'Les Stances a Sophie', I can't be sure, but I imagine these slow, spaced reeds paint a perfect backdrop to whatever the film is about. We get variations on a theme by Claudio Monteverdi split across the middle of the album and maybe that's the true highlight of this record for me. Over all these albums I've heard the Ensemble play raucous, genteel, loose and tight, but these Monteverdi cadences are a beuteous ramification of Western tradition streaming through the masks. Fontella Bass comes back at the end and this time they rev up the engine, letting her rip too. It resembles those early Gunter Hampel sides at times though with something, I dunno, blacker, about it all. If Putney sed the Borman 6 girl's a-gotta have soul you'll find it here, but with a stack of Ishmael Reed novels too.

5 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Certain Blacks' (Inner City)

This used to occupy the spot of "least favorite Art Ensemble record worth keeping", for I perceived it as only pseudo-AEoC. The lineup contains Chicago Beau, Julio Finn, and William A. Howell, and none of the three compositions are by the "actual", "real" Art Ensemble members. This record is copyrighted 1976 and I saw this as the beginning of their downfall, but I couldn't deny some pretty killer grooves here so I kept it in the collection. Now I read that it was actually recorded in 1970, in Paris (which is not owned up to on the sleeve) so now it's recontextualised - some Chicago friends came over to visit, perhaps, and they had a recording session where they decided to let loose a bit. The visitors led things, and they decided to rock out with their cock(s) out, for once, right? And now if I think of this as fun and stop worrying about it being a great artistic statement against the already mighty pantheon of Art Ensemble releases, I can really enjoy it. The first side is "Certain Blacks" with a goofball chant that comes and goes around a total American-style loft jam. There is a more gutbucket approach here - maybe it's Finn's harmonica but it just feels ballsy and bluesy, melodic and dissonant at the same time. Howell's drumming is propulsive if not particularly distinct and it keeps things going. I guess if I was more of a student of the reeds I could hear the tonal aspects that identify the Art Ensemble's signature, but it all gets lost a bit through the new veil of, gasp, accessibility. Side two is even more "inside" - it opens with "One For Jarman", a clean, open descension around Beau's piano riff. It recalls some of the bouncier bits of side 2 of Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath record, though with somewhat more translucent intervals. The last piece, a Sonny Boy Williamson jam, is like a bar room brawl magnified by a muddy trench, and it ends with the most bombastic, direct groove ever released under the Art Ensemble moniker. (Well, at least out of what I've heard). It's cool to embrace your roots and around the time this record was actually released I think they were starting to head in that direction.

4 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Live in Paris' (Get Back)

Wikipedia incorrectly reports that Don Moye plays on this, which is an easy guess to make since this came out in '74, but the recording is from '69 in pre-Famoudou Paris; I'll stand by the liner notes. But more confusing is the essay in the gatefold, which is from the late 70s so it refers to events that haven't happened yet when this music was being made. Also I should note that my cover is slightly different than this as the word "Live" is actually in grey, and it says "Live in Paris" and the Affinity logo isn't in the bottom right. A beautiful black gatefold with four black sides of great black music - about 100 minutes of it! The first record is "Oh Strange", supposedly a Jarman/Bowie tune though it sounds like a group improvisation if I've ever heard one. It's long and sprawling and it changes a lot but has some absolutely jaw-dropping moments of groupthump. At one point near the end of the second side the band shifts into a detuned, strummy banjo-led bit but instead of referencing some American folk music or country lineage, it's a warped abstracted soundworld. If you told me it was some cassette from the corners of the American underground avant/noise scene of maybe 3, 4 years ago, I would have no reason to doubt you. This prescience is evident at all points of the piece but it sounds most 'current' here; clearly, the rest of the world is still catching up to these guys. The second LP is "Bon Voyage", penned by Bowie, which explodes with a drumset-led freeform freakout. I assume the drums are being played by Malachi Favors though we also hear bass and marimba or vibes or something pulsing underneath. Whoever's doing it is a madman, exploding in little shouts with a rampant nervousness that drives the horns to accelerate towards the sun. Bowie is seriously one of the most expressive trumpet players ever, even if he's just shooting flutters to the winds - they feel so human, and so warm, that they bring a dynamic basis to the colder moments. When it finally starts to settle down we get a really melodic, repetetive trance and then special guest Fontella Bass, aka Mrs. Lester Bowie, chants with the rest of 'em. This record really sounds 'live'; great fidelity, but you can hear the room and feel the energy of the audience (Ils ont été perplexe, non?). I don't mind the fadeouts at the ends of sides 1 and 3 either - it's almost necessary to have a breather in the middle of these dense pillars. Listened to chronologically (by recording date, not release) it's a nice release after all the carefully calculated space on the last couple of records. Some might decry that they've moved into a more traditional free jazz area here, but there's still so much depth and sensitivity in their playing that's more like they moved free jazz into their area.

3 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Reese and the Smooth Ones' (Get Back)

I hate to keep comparing each Art Ensemble release on these blogs to the previous ones, but when you're dealing with 9 albums in a row by a single artist you tend to look for continuity. If their Paris soujourn (which is our starting point in their discography) began with the 2fer CD of Jackson/Message's playful, maybe even zany, excursions -- and was followed up by the somber, tentative People in Sorrow - then Reese and the Smooth Ones splits the difference. Which is to say that this is a complex beast, a work that is decidedly more distant than its predecessors. The two sides are strangely labeled as both "Reese", a Roscoe Mitchell compositions, and "The Smooth Ones" by Lester Bowie, but it's not delineated where they begin and end, and if "Reese" starts side one followed by "The Smooth Ones", it also starts side two and "The Smooth Ones" comes back as well. What this label might be saying is that the whole record is one piece that is simultaneously Mitchell's "Reese" AND Bowie's "Smooth Ones", and that neither begins nor ends in a traditional sense. Though we don't have two compositions being played on top of each other. The opening of this record is a very exact, synchronised group-step that is cranked up with distorted tones and buzzing. It's like the dirty, cheap-amplification sound of Konono no 1 only human breath alone drives this clanging. The intonation is slightly off, or maybe it's supposed to sound detuned or microtonal or something. But what does it say? This may be the first occurance of the noted "difficult" sounds of the Art Ensemble, for as non-traditional as their earlier records are in terms of style and aesthetic, there is something very direct and fluid there. But here, I'd even say it's cold. When it stops and shift to the quiet/sparse vibe you feel like the Smooth is making it's presence felt. But as the momentum starts to pick up, we get oddball instruments thrown in - gongs, steel drums, other weird pieces of percussion - and full on tribal drumming by the end. It continues for awhile and feels so herky-jerky but kinda awesome, cause all those screeching sax lines and crashing cymbals reach the ecstatic pulse but not in an ESP/loft way. It's like, Paris, man, and Chicago too - the CTA superimposed on (Malachi dans) le Métro, a screeching out-of-control subway with the physics all wrong smashing through the Mediterranean and ending up on some African savannah. The heat musta been sweltering in Studio Saravah in the middle of August; I bet they didn't have any air-conditioning. Post-Varèse neo-classical composition can meet traditional African flavours, and it can knock your socks off if you're in the right mood. Prepare to feel your brain and your blood both reverberate.

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'People in Sorrow' (Nessa)

I couldn't find a cover via Google image search that actually looks like mine, which is yellow ink on a white background. It's a truly beautiful (if hard to read) design that is sadly marred by some magic marker scrawlings on the back of my copy. But the sounds within are beautiful and unmarred, unless you count elegiac misery through tonal illusion as some form of detriment. This long piece, split onto two sides, is the yang to the yin of Jackson in the House/Message to Our Folks. Whereas those pieces were chaotic, lively, and exuberant, People in Sorrow is an apt title. This is much closer to Roscoe Mitchell's Sound: space breathes, the notes expand, and there are some definite throwbacks to ballads of jazz past, though through a damaged prism. At times it feels like each of the four musicians are wandering through a desert, conserving their energy yet crying into the wind. There are moments of Third Stream/post-modal hoohah, but undercut by little bit of percussion and, whattatheycallit, "little" instruments. To go back to the cover art, it's interesting how stark and monochromatic the jacket design is, because this music is pure colour. These Paris Art Ensemble records are so special for many reasons. Before Don Moye joined the group, these guys took it upon themselves to provide the rhythm - I mean, they had to. But instead of making Malachi Favors carry it all they equally share rhythmic duties as well as all other soundroles. It's part of their approach - it's what makes them an Ensemble, right? And those early Chicago AACM sides (the solo Mitchell and Jarman, plus early Anthony Braxton -- all of which we'll get to later) are such a bold statement of a sound, that I can't help but feel that the Paris residency was partially about spreading this new gospel. When you listen to People in Sorrow - or rather, when I listen to it -- I hear four geniuses who grew up in the tradition of jazz but have decided to strip away the composition and leave only the feelings, images and accents. There are gestures back to a lot of things - Third Stream as I said before, but also Bowie's utter passion for Dixieland creeps in even on this most wispy of Art Ensemble releases -- but it's never concrete enough to materialise. Dislocated Underbite Spinal Alphabetiser Encourager Templates is proudly supportive of music that dissipates before it is being played; and yet despite our enthusiasm, this probably isn't the first record we reach for when looking to jam these guys. But dark moments are never easy.