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We speak of the Art Ensemble of Chicago circa 2003 as being in a post-Lester Bowie era. The group's mighty founder and trumpeter passed away in 1999. Meanwhile, this recording and the trio session Tribute To Lester (ECM 2003) have been the only AEC recordings made in this new era.
But you may remember that the AEC was once distinguished as pre- and post-Joseph Jarman when he left the band in 1993. His return here doesn’t substitute for Bowie’s absence, it merely aims the music in different directions.
Jarman’s Buddhist studies of the past ten years are readily apparent from the opening track, a vocal praise of his Dharma path and quest for enlightenment. The boppish tune exemplifies AEC’s diverse sources for inspiration and content. The second track goes on to a 19-minute mostly free piece with each member playing lengthy percussive solos that come together in a group contemplative resolution of sound.
The ability to match foot-tapping compositions, like their nod to hip-hop on “Tech Ritter and the Megabytes” and open meditations on “Wind and Drum” with its bells and flutes, exemplifies the wide-ranging genius of this working ensemble. What AEC displays after all these years is a thorough knowledge of improvisation based both on noise and silence.
The title track, by Roscoe Mitchell, exorcises the demons of both sound and pulse with Jarman and Mitchell blowing over powerful waves of energy summoned by Moye and Favors. They then shift into their infamous "plays with toys" on “Amin Bidness” when the bells, recorders and hand drumming begins. Where these sounds usually come off best in live encounters with AEC, the excellent recording here separates players and leaves the listener in a dreamy elated state.
As a kid, my mom told me I'd like jazz. I thought she was nuts. Then I went to hear Cannonball Adderley (with Nat Adderley, George Duke, Walter Booker, Roy McCurdy and Airto) and everything changed. Yeah, mom knows best.