The Art Ensemble Of Chicago With Fred Anderson
November 6, 2002
Earshot Jazz Festival
The first set started slowly with woodwinds player Roscoe Mitchell striking a large metal bowl with a mallet. He did this repeatedly while Malachi Favors, who was dressed in African garments and was wearing face paint, bowed the strings of his upright bass and Famadou Don Moye, who was also wearing African garments and face paint, played various percussion instruments as well as his drums and cymbals. This gradually developed into an outside musical movement as Mitchell switched to playing alto and soprano saxophones. As the energy of the movement increased, Mitchell's playing became blazing and intricate, never sacrificing or forgiving. After about fifteen minutes of improvising with the trio, he walked over to stage left where Fred Anderson was sitting on a stool offstage watching things develop.
Favors and Moye continued the energy while Mitchell pointed to Anderson and motioned him onto the stage. As the two horn players exchanged words Anderson strapped on his tenor saxophone and the two of them walked to the center of the stage and started playing Mitchell playing alto with as much intensity if not more than this town has seen since John Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders graced the stage of the Penthouse in September of 1965. For the next thirty minutes the group stayed outside until they began to transcend what they were playing, taking the listener with them, segueing into a lucid version of "Odwalla" from their 1973 release "Bap-tizum." As the theme became more lucid and the instrumentalists reached their higher plane Mitchell introduced the quartet and the first set drew to a conclusion.
As transcendant as the first set was, the second set was powerful. The quartet began with a mid-tempo avant-bop version of "Odwalla" picking it up from the first set until it broke down and the swinging stopped. The band was outside and with more power and intensity than they were the previous set and the intensity began to build until it became nearly unbearable. Favors began yelling, abandoning his bass and picking up a megaphone that at first wouldn't work and as he beat on it and shook it the megaphone came to life with a hiss of distortion, and Favors began to whisper into it incomprehensibly. The intensity continued to build as the horn players drew signals, perhaps not to themselves or to the listeners as much as to the universe and after more than forty five minutes Mitchell signalled the theme to the rest of the group and for a brief moment the intensity broke, and they stepped into "Odwalla" again at mid tempo avant-bop. Mitchell introduced the quartet once more and the theme, as well as the second set, drew to a close.
This clearly was no small feat, but especially for Mitchell who has recently recovered from being seriously ill, and for the rest of the group who, in 1999, lost one of their founding members, the great trumpeter Lester Bowie, to liver cancer. It is a wonderful thing that The Art Ensemble is performing again after laying off almost entirely over the last decade and we are very fortunate to have had them here in Seattle at this year's Earshot Jazz Festival.