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Art Ensemble of Chicago: Live In Milano

Live in Milano is a reissue of a 1980 set by one of the great free-jazz bands; the LP was originally titled Among the People and appeared on the obscure Praxis label. Half the disc is “Tutankhamun,” with a lyrical, slow Lester Bowie trumpet solo with characteristic emotive interjections, then a fast, melodic bass sax solo, presumably by Joseph Jarman, that bubbles like lava; when Bowie reenters, the group bounces along like a far-fetched version of a Gerry Mulligan quartet. “Illinstrun” is a quiet percussion piece, initially with tinkling metal sounds; over halfway through, the atmosphere suddenly, almost imperceptibly, changes to mysterious, indescribable sounds, with Malachi Favors bowing his bass alone at the end. Aggressive, vivid percussion led by Famoudou Don Moye opens “A Jackson in Your House”; the alto solo, consisting of edgy motivic variations, is presumably by Roscoe Mitchell, and the comic theme statement is by toy-store instruments.

What disparate yet complementary personalities these five musicians were. The Art Ensemble offered a range of sounds, dynamics and emotionality that was unprecedented in jazz; among subsequent combos, has anyone in America or Europe come close, even for a little while? Of course, now that this group has vanished, every document is something to cherish. This concert was good, though not one of their best. It was poorly recorded, and the horn solos were badly miked, so turn up the volume when you listen.

Originally Published