Time wins every time. The clock eventually beats the best of us, even those who seem to exist outside of it. Malachi Favors Maghoustut was one such man. He claimed to be 43,000 years old. He claimed at one point actually to be getting younger. We might have smiled, but at the same time we knew that if anyone could pull it off...
But the strong, stoic bassist of the venerable Art Ensemble of Chicago succumbed on January 30, after what had already been a hard few years for the mighty AECO. Before losing their bassist, trumpeter Lester Bowie passed away, and not long before that saxophonist Joseph Jarman had left the gold to devote himself to Buddhist studies. Over the last decade, they put out some of their weakest, and some fine but roundly ignored, records. With Jarman returning between the deaths of Bowie and Favors, the band missed its chance to be the original quintet, and couldn't seem to get off shaky ground.
Still - or maybe because of that - it was unnerving when the line-up for their weeklong stint at Iridium was announced. The weeklong stint at the upscale midtown Manhattan club was booked prior to Favors' death, and the thought of replacement members seemed an affront. They'd tried bringing in new members after Bowie's death - Chicago saxophonists Fred Anderson and Ari Brown both gigged with the group - but settled into the fine Favors/Roscoe Mitchell/Famadou Don Moye trio that recorded the excellent Tribute to Lester for ECM. And while there's something not just appropriate (the band hadn't added a member since Moye joined in 1969) but intriguing about the Art Ensemble as a twin-sax trio, there was something inspiring about seeing them as a full quintet again.
With members borrowed from Mitchell's Note Factory - bassist Jaribu Shahid and the talented young trumpeter Cory Wilkes - the group was confident and strong for the Iridium gigs. They weren't the same band, but they have been at least four different bands over the years, even when their membership wasn't in flux. They ended the opening night with Jarman alone onstage, singing a cappella "This music comes to you/With love/The sound is the sound of life." Malachi Favors was the ancient, but certainly wouldn't have stood in the way of the future.