You, me, the music, and me.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

THE ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO Fanfare for the Warriors

Atlantic SD 1651 (1974)

Within days of my joining the AEC in early 1970, Lester (Bowie) took me aside one day after rehearsal and said, very seriously, "Don't even mess with us or get any more involved if you can't commit to playing Great Black Music at a very high level, becoming famous, and taking our place in the History of Jazz."

- AEC drummer Famoudou Don Moye, from the liner notes to Tribute to Lester (ECM 1808)

Regardless of what one thinks of the country of the United States of America and their position in the world, they can be credited with two very important contributions to world culture; they gave us jazz, and they gave us the Art Ensemble of Chicago. For nearly forty years the group has dedicated itself not just to the performance and preservation of jazz and the avant garde but to what they call "Great Black Music", a style all their own that encompasses traditional African folk music, blues, poetry, vaudeville, and theatre. They have survived changes in lineups and record labels (and the deaths of two founding members) and continue to thrive as one of America's most underappreciated national treasures.

Fanfare for the Warriors was recorded with the help of pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, who was not an official member of the group but a fellow member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), a Chicago-based collective made up primarily of avant garde jazz artists. It's a strong, varied album and contains at least one example of each ingredient the band uses in its musical melting pot; there's the poetic recitation of "Illistrum", the bluesy, driving "Barnyard Scuffel Shuffel", and the intervallic, avant garde madness of "Nonaah". The title track is a classic free jazz raveup in the vein of Albert Ayler, while the flutes and piccolos of "What's to Say" give off a dancing African township feel. The off-key vocal harmonizations and subsequent laughter in the brief closer "The Key" proves that, for all their lofty goals, the group never takes itself too seriously.

If you only own one Art Ensemble album, I'd tell you to go out and get a few more, but if you're going to limit yourself to one, Fanfare shows this multitalented, multistylistic group at one of their many peaks.


At 4:22 AM, Blogger craig said...

Don't forget 'Message To Our Folks', too. And 'Certain Blacks'. Or any of them - the man's right, you NEED all of these albums.

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Peter MacDonald said...

I need to get Certain Blacks, but Message is really great... been listening to it a lot lately.


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