Art Ensemble of Chicago: Full Force (ECM 1167)

 

Art Ensemble of Chicago
Full Force

Lester Bowie trumpet
Joseph Jarman reeds, flute, gongs
Roscoe Mitchell reeds, percussion
Malachi Favors Maghostus bass, percussion, melodica, vocal
Famoudou Don Moye sun percussion
Recorded January 1980 at Columbia Recording Studios, New York
Engineer: David Baker
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Full Force begins in cool breath and ends in scalding heat, the inhalation and exhalation of its own mission. As one comes to expect from any AEC outing, tonal colors are on a mission to envelop us. Despite what the title would have you believe, this is an album of staggering subtlety and finesse. That being said, it is also an intense experience. The first such intimations appear early in “Magg Zelma,” which amid a delectable gamut of percussive signatures begins like an iteration of John Zorn’s Cobra—duck calls share the air with gongs, brass, and mysterious whistles—before the muddy bass of Malachi Favors is cross-hatched more regularly by cymbals and winds. Rhythmatist Don Moye keeps us in the loop as our reedmen crack a freedom egg. Big band horns carry us along through tight harmonies in “Care Free,” which lasts all of 51 seconds, prelude to the Mingus tribute “Charlie M.” Here, the mood and melody recall “A Sentimental Journey,” if through raunchier diction. An unhinged bass solo and some swanky sax from Roscoe Mitchell underline its narrative flow. “Old Time Southside Street Dance” christens itself with a bottle of fire. Laced with an incredible alto solo sustained by circular breathing and equally inexhaustible energy, this tune is perfectly programmed as the penultimate catharsis. A string of solos from trumpet, soprano, and bass skid into the finish line by the skin of their teeth.

These vagabond musicians prove their inventiveness at every turn, and nowhere more so than in via the Baroque chamber instruments woven into the prismatic title track. They hurtle forth with all the potential of a tornado compressed into a dot—a sweeping yet brief gesture, a calling out, a fluttering drum, a distorted voice, a bout of laughter, and a resolute twang running its fingernail around the edge of an enormous sonorous quarter.

Now occupying a well-earned place among ECM’s carefully chosen Touchstones series, this may just be the best entry point into the AEC’s fantastic ride.

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