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Art Ensemble of Chicago: Bap-Tizum

The Art Ensemble of Chicago and the AACM in general were crucially important during the second phase of the free jazz movement, which took hold in the late 60s. In the first phase the emphasis was overwhelmingly on soloing, and some of the soloists were short on ideas, so they relied on endless honking, screaming and playing, often sloppily, flurries of notes. In the end their soloing was monotonous, despite their efforts to make it exciting. Not that honking, screaming and playing harmonically, melodically and rhythmically substanceless note flurries is always bad, but when you do it all night long without discipline it can lead to lousy music.

The Art Ensemble, among other groups and individuals, imposed some order on free jazz. They stressed the importance of ensemble playing and multi-sectioned compositions. The members, here including trumpeter Lester Bowie, woodwind players Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, bassist Malachi Favors and drummer Don Moye, did a lot of doubling to add tibral variety to their work and drew on “world music” influences. They employed the spoken work to add to the drama of their performances. The Art Ensemble made weird noises and did some banging too, but this made sense within the context of their performances.

This CD was originally on Atlantic, issued in 1973. It’s typical and a very good example of the Art Ensemble’s work: colorful, sometimes lyrical, sometimes funny, sometimes violent. If you’re too young to have been around to check out the jazz scene in the ’70s, listen to this. It represents an important movement at its best.

Originally Published