In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the musicians of The Art Ensemble of Chicago, the first contingent of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) to go overseas to spread their music, made quite a splash, eliciting excitement among jazz reviewers, musicians and audiences alike. This album, recorded 50 years later in the city that first welcomed them (although it was not all roses, as George Lewis describes it in his book, A Power Stronger than Itself), marks the anniversary of that series of events that would change the course of contemporary music. It is a wonderfully conceived and powerfully executed tribute to a landmark moment.
Widening the circle beyond The Art Ensemble's usual members and past guests (like Roscoe Mitchell, Famadou Don Moye, Enouch Williamson, Babu Atiba, and Hugh Ragin who all appear here) newer acolytes join in on the celebration, like flautist Nicole Mitchell, bassist Junius Paul and cellist Tomeka Reid, as well as musicians from around the USA, like violinist Jean Cook and violist Eddy Kwon, and abroad, like double bassist Silvia Bolognesi and percussionists Dudu Koaute and Doussou Toure, for a truly international gathering (20 musicians, including conductor/director Steed Cowart). The event was recorded by Olivier Gascoin as part of the Festival Sons d'Hiver at the Maison des Arts de Créteil on February 7, 2020, weeks before the pandemonium that shut down the world.
This is a huge offering of magnificent music worthy of the occasion that marks the anniversary of The Art Ensemble of Chicago's coming of age. The music is indeed momentous, blending sounds old and new in a timeless fashion. The 17 tracks on the two CDs in many ways sound like an oratorio, with the spoken word of Moor Mother and the wonderful and powerful voices of Erina Newkirk and Roco Cordova. The themes are old and new: Black identity and affirmation of the divine in human experience as well as the musical idiomatic aspects grounded in the historicity of Great Black music, which like the AACM, is what the Art Ensemble has always been about. Here, with the inclusion of so many musicians from varied backgrounds and ethnic origins, Great Black Music seems to be embracing more than it ever did.
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