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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.

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