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January/February 2005

Art Ensemble of Chicago
Sirius Calling
Pi Recordings

Who knows what the future holds for the Art Ensemble? Losing Lester Bowie was bad enough. The death of bassist Malachi Favors in 2004 silenced half of the band's incomparable rhythm section. It's hard to imagine the group absent Favors' melodic/percussive genius. According to the liner notes, Favors named this album-presumably the last he recorded with the band.

Composer credit on nine of the 14 tracks goes to "AEC," meaning the bulk of the music is fully improvised. As always, thoughtful interaction characterizes the group's extended improvs. On "Come on Y'all" reedists Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman finish each others' sentences-the lines seem to share a single provenance, as if they were played by the right and left hands of a single eccentric keyboardist. Favors establishes a three-note arco motif, which he gradually expands microtonally and by the use of harmonics. While sax players are almost expected to inject a melismatic quality into their work, it's less common to hear a bassist do it, and few do it as skillfully as Favors does here.

Mitchell's "Til Autumn" is a complex, Mingus-ian swinger that harkens back to the AEC's '70s and '80s heyday. Favors and drummer Don Moye have long been among the hardest swinging avant-gardists, and no contemporary rhythm section has a more comprehensive grasp of the music's history. Moye's finely shaded use of cymbals evokes light, and his subtle shifting of the beat, lightness. Indeed, the AEC's group sound is luminous. Enjoy this one, because regardless whether the band goes on, we'll not experience this particular light again.

Originally published in January/February 2005
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