Art Ensemble of Chicago
Lester Bowie trumpet, celeste, bass drum
Joseph Jarman reeds, percussion, vocal
Roscoe Mitchell reeds, percussion
Malachi Favors Maghostus bass, percussion, melodica
Famoudou Don Moye drums, percussion, vocal
Recorded May 1978 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher
The legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago, currently in their fifth decade of activity, ended a five-year studio silence with Nice Guys, their debut for ECM at the pinnacle of the label’s output. As children of Chicago’s groundbreaking Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM)—which also finds Jack DeJohnette, Anthony Braxton, and Wadada Leo Smith on its formidable roster—Ensemble members bring to every project a sound as eclectic as their technology. Theirs is simply positive music-making that is loads of fun and possesses much to admire. Free of dangerous philosophical trappings and illusions of space, it forges through the loose aesthetic of its performance a circle in which any and all listeners feel included.
The group’s noted fondness for “little instruments” adds color at every turn, as in the blown menagerie that is “Folkus,” the sole contribution from drummer Don Moye. Amid accents from parallel dimensions, winds and brass get locked in a cacophonous traffic jam—recalling the opening of Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend—before falling into shadowy gestures and other cosmic accidents. Out of this, we awaken with Moye’s footsteps as a flock of shawms flies overhead into a tease. Such enigmatic caravans are emblematic of the AEC at their most visceral. Leader and reed-meister Roscoe Mitchell delights with the title track and with “Cyp,” both likeminded forays into breath and time. In the latter, we get the first (and perhaps last) bike horn “solo” in all of jazz, as well as some powerful wails from trumpeter Lester Bowie, who also lures us in with the album’s opener, “Ja.” Here, we start in freefall, finding solid ground beneath our sonic feet as the group slips into a Jamaican free-for-all. Joseph Jarman brings his saxophonic skills to the tripping rhythms of “597-59.” Bassist Malachi Favors, who provides not a few captivating moments, is the bounding foil thereof. Yet it is “Dreaming Of The Master,” Jarman’s nearly 12-minute love letter to Miles Davis, that brings the album to its most emphatic conclusions. With more specific execution, it shows the depth and breadth of the Ensemble at their best. Moye kicks things up a notch or two, paving the way for star turns from Mitchell, so that when the vampy horns return we hear them not as a memory but as an entirely new collective experience. And in the end, this is what the AEC is all about.