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Art Ensemble of Chicago The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris (Rogue Art)

The improvisational group releases an album bursting at the seams with bird tweets, frenzied dissonance, wonky complexity, and chamber-jazz spaciousness.

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Photo Courtesy of Michel Robert

It’s only fitting that the refreshed, noise-making Art Ensemble of Chicago returned to the scene of its first free-jazz crimes in 1969—Paris—for the fruits of its newly reconstructed deconstructionist model. Living under the rubric of “great Black music: ancient to the future,” theirs is an eternal roar that death can never quiet and time can never constrain. Having lost fellow cofounders Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, and Malachi Favors, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and drummer Famoudou Don Moye first looked backwards to the AEC’s radical roots in welcoming sociopoliticized spoken word/ electronic music provocateur Moor Mother. Gathering additional members, including trumpeter Hugh Ragin, flautist Nicole Mitchell, cellist Tomeka Reid, violinist Jean Cook, and bassist Jaribu Shahid, the Art Ensemble released the aptly titled We Are on the Edge and attacked Paris’ Sons D’Hiver in 2020. 

Cover of The Sixth Decade: From Paris to Paris

Bursting at the seams with operatic art song, bird tweets, frenzied dissonance, wonky complexity, and chamber-jazz spaciousness, The Sixth Decade is an opulent and lively and tenacious gem. Pulling from past history (“Odwalla,” “Funky AECO”) and making new impromptu history, the band swings with the holy roll of the gods, interacting ethno-polyrhythmically while staying out of each other’s way. That’s no mean feat for 17 people on one stage. Perhaps to credit for such stately sparseness is Roscoe Mitchell’s recent work on string ensemble compositions. On The Sixth Decade, Mitchell’s newfound brand of courtliness is revealed in the baronial “Variations and Sketches,” the scuffed and mournful strings of “Cards,” and the more serene elements of the classic “Leola.” 

As seriously frenetic and improvisational as this Parisian grouping—and surely any Art Ensemble configuration going forward—is, a genuine sense of peace and dedication to open space permeates The Sixth Decade. Here’s hoping this team celebrate The Seventh Decade in equally fractured and gentle form.