Long ago I wrote in the Guardian that a 1980 London performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago – Lester Bowie (trumpet), Joseph Jarman (saxophones), Malachi Favors Maghostut (bass), Roscoe Mitchell (saxophone and composition) and Famoudou Don Moye (percussion) – had felt “like a sermon, a drama… and a history lesson all at the same time”. The late great sage of American jazz Nat Hentoff went further, suggesting that the group “dated back conceptually to long before there was ever anything called jazz, and headed into a future beyond all category”.
The words could have been a blueprint for this Art Ensemble 50th anniversary set, recorded at France’s Sons d’Hiver festival in 2020 and conducted by Mitchell and Moye, the band’s oldest surviving elders. For the project, they called upon an international chamber orchestra of 20 musicians. The new line-up includes contemporary classical progressives and Art Ensemble-inspired improvisers, such as poet and musician Camae Ayewa, AKA Moor Mother, a polemical vocalist with young afrofuturist collective Irreversible Entanglements.
Among the unconditional and delicate movements of sound in silence, Mitchell’s melancholy and lyrical Leola becomes a pulsating low register drone, aided by a multitude of cymbal showers, classic choral vocals and Ayewa’s driving lyrics. Other highlights include the cool swinging Kumpa (from Senegalese griot and AEC sidekick Dudu Kouate), the riffy electric groover Funky AECO, the signature theme from Ensemble Odwalla, and much more. It’s heartwarming to hear the devoted heirs of the AEC so ready to continue the story.
Also out this week
Swedish bassist/composer Anders Jorminsubtle collaboration of two decades with the singer and the violinist Lena Willemark – the terms “jazz” and “folk” touch on their identities but never constrain them – was expanded in 2015 to include Karin Nakagawa, a virtuoso of the Japanese koto zither with a thrilling sound. Pasado en Claro (ECM), featuring Jormin’s longtime sidekick on drums Jon Faltfeatures softly passionate vocals amid abstract sound worlds, gently prancing dances and whispered vocals intertwined with improvisational bass counterpoint.
Sarcastic puppy dynamos Bill Laurance and Michael League show how rich their non-Snarky lives can be as a mostly acoustic duo (playing African and Mediterranean string instruments, including the oud in League’s case) on Where You Wish You Were (ACT), a set of alluring, rhythmically lively originals.
Young expatriate British saxophonist george winstonmeanwhile, joins an ingenious American effects guitarist Ben Monder for an all-improvised set promising Coltranesque sax-ballad soulfulness, ghostly Celtic bagpipe calls, and haunting if sometimes quiet contemplation on Odysseus, available on Bandcamp.