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Art Ensemble of Chicago: Dreaming of the Masters Suite

The old adage, “if you snooze, you lose,” often applies to Japanese imports. They can surface for just a nanosecond in the U.S. retail market, and maddeningly disappear. The reissue several years ago of the classic mid-’60s Fontanas are a case in point: here today, gone today. So, the reappearance of these Art Ensemble of Chicago DIWs should be very welcomed news; even though the label has enjoyed relatively good U.S. distribution in the past, several of the nine AEC titles, particularly Dreaming of the Masters Suite, have been increasingly difficult to find in recent years.

Dreaming of the Masters Suite and Live at the 6th Tokyo Music Joy ’90 are markedly different albums, despite being recorded just weeks apart in early ’90. Subtitled, “music inspired by and dedicated to John Coltrane,” the former is a cohesive joining of AEC originals and three Coltrane classics: “Impressions,” “Naima,” and “Spiritual.” Conversely, the redacted AEC/Brass Fantasy concert has the disjointed feel of a highlights reel; trying to represent the sweep of an AEC set with barely eleven minutes of material is folly.

Despite the presence of a sizable amount of material recorded elsewhere-both albums have Roscoe Mitchell’s spry “Song for Atala,” and the Coltrane-inspired disc has yet another version of Joseph Jarman’s fiery “Ohnedaruth”-both albums have enough exceptional tracks to make AEC fans think twice before letting either disc slip back into the void.

Mitchell’s astringent “Variations” benefits from the melding of AEC’s sun percussion and little instruments with the broader palette of horns afforded by Brass Fantasy; so too does the slap-happy New Orleans polyphony of “A Jackson in Your House.” The AEC’s takes on “Impressions” and “Naima” are engaging and relatively faithful to the originals; “Spiritual” is remarkably daring, as it is transformed into a haiku of flute, chimes, and synth-generated bird songs.

Originally Published