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3 July 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'Reese and the Smooth Ones' (Get Back)

I hate to keep comparing each Art Ensemble release on these blogs to the previous ones, but when you're dealing with 9 albums in a row by a single artist you tend to look for continuity. If their Paris soujourn (which is our starting point in their discography) began with the 2fer CD of Jackson/Message's playful, maybe even zany, excursions -- and was followed up by the somber, tentative People in Sorrow - then Reese and the Smooth Ones splits the difference. Which is to say that this is a complex beast, a work that is decidedly more distant than its predecessors. The two sides are strangely labeled as both "Reese", a Roscoe Mitchell compositions, and "The Smooth Ones" by Lester Bowie, but it's not delineated where they begin and end, and if "Reese" starts side one followed by "The Smooth Ones", it also starts side two and "The Smooth Ones" comes back as well. What this label might be saying is that the whole record is one piece that is simultaneously Mitchell's "Reese" AND Bowie's "Smooth Ones", and that neither begins nor ends in a traditional sense. Though we don't have two compositions being played on top of each other. The opening of this record is a very exact, synchronised group-step that is cranked up with distorted tones and buzzing. It's like the dirty, cheap-amplification sound of Konono no 1 only human breath alone drives this clanging. The intonation is slightly off, or maybe it's supposed to sound detuned or microtonal or something. But what does it say? This may be the first occurance of the noted "difficult" sounds of the Art Ensemble, for as non-traditional as their earlier records are in terms of style and aesthetic, there is something very direct and fluid there. But here, I'd even say it's cold. When it stops and shift to the quiet/sparse vibe you feel like the Smooth is making it's presence felt. But as the momentum starts to pick up, we get oddball instruments thrown in - gongs, steel drums, other weird pieces of percussion - and full on tribal drumming by the end. It continues for awhile and feels so herky-jerky but kinda awesome, cause all those screeching sax lines and crashing cymbals reach the ecstatic pulse but not in an ESP/loft way. It's like, Paris, man, and Chicago too - the CTA superimposed on (Malachi dans) le Métro, a screeching out-of-control subway with the physics all wrong smashing through the Mediterranean and ending up on some African savannah. The heat musta been sweltering in Studio Saravah in the middle of August; I bet they didn't have any air-conditioning. Post-Varèse neo-classical composition can meet traditional African flavours, and it can knock your socks off if you're in the right mood. Prepare to feel your brain and your blood both reverberate.

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