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19 July 2009

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?

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