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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.

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