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3 July 2009

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.

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