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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.

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