This perceptive elucidation written in 1970 by John Litweiler succinctly documents a significant moment in jazz history
the migration of these Chicago musicians to Europe, where the “Avant Garde” movement had in the late ‘60s achieved some kind of tenuous acceptance
particularly in Copenhagen and later, Paris. — Alan Bates
Whatever the satisfactions, to talented, creative musicians, of performing formally at haphazard intervals, seldom being paid more than the union-prescribed minimum and continually working either with other musicians in the same paralyzing circumstances or else rock/rhythm-and-blues jobs for more-or-less steady incomes
whatever delights this way of life holds for the likes of Chicago’s Art Ensemble (Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman, alto saxes; Lester Bowie, trumpet; Malachi Favors, bass) and the Anthony Braxton Trio (Braxton, alto; Leo Smith, trumpet; Leroy Jenkins, violin), they are as nothing compared with the absurdly utopian ideal of performing their original music steadily in formal presentations, thereby earning a modest degree of security such as farm hands, taxi drivers, menials, etc. possess. Thus the Art Ensemble at the end of May, 1969 and the Braxton Trio, at the end of June, left Chicago to sail for Europe, the American jazz musicians’ Promised Land.
The departure of these seven dreamers of the impossible (or at least highly improbable) dream is a grim commentary on the new music movement in Chicago. Sustained largely by the continuity involvement and hope offered by their courageous co-operative The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (with its continuing concert series, lively and optimistic propaganda, and remarkable music school which offers free instruction in a variety of courses, including theory, black music history, individual instrumental training, etc., to South-side black ghetto youths), these seven players have now concluded that the Midwestern U.S. is exhausted of opportunity
more, journeys to the West Coast and the East (specifically, New York) have been even less rewarding. But already the Art Ensemble players have found an audience in France
so they report to Chicago friends
and if their continuing reception in Europe is at all respectable, their stay will surely be an extended one.
More often than not, Chicago groups and individual musicians tended to surrender their special freedom
to use “freedom” in the broad, accurate, i.e. less idiomatic and contemporary sense
in favor of fulfilling personal programs. Thus Joseph Jarman, who believed implicitly in program music, had by summer, 1968, reached a creative impasse. A composer with rare skill at orchestration, his writing had crumbled to once-in-a-long-while quartet lines; a virtuoso alto and soprano saxophonist, his improvisations had increasingly become set pieces in two or three tempos and his work on other woodwinds sometimes even sounded amateurish; blessed with a straight-ahead linear mind, he chose to leave his original talents dormant in favor of inventing moods and effects with dozens of bells, toys, etc.
his arsenal of new sound effects is ever-growing, and in the Art Ensemble’s last concert he trifled with theramin and electric guitar.
This preoccupation of Jarman’s is shared by at least half of his Chicago cohorts, and among the seven expatriates alone there must be 500 separate instruments: entire families of woodwinds, marimbas, wooden things, gongs, exotic string instruments, gourds, a huge parade drum, tiny cymbals, etc., etc. Jarman seems to be the most compulsive about accumulating sound effects devices, and has found less to do with them (Mitchell and Bowie, for instance, find ways to treat the devices as musical instruments)
in fact, Jarman seems mainly interested in simply making sounds, much as you or I might do. Overall, Jarman’s music, from its first exploratory stages to the present, exhibits a deceptive virtuoso skill and self-confidence which masks periods of deliberate remarkably perceptive exploration alternating with longer periods of often extreme caution. Thus his failure to come to grips with the possibilities of his “little instruments”; thus his dependence on nominally “free” group improvisation which inevitably recalls past efforts; thus the lack of variety, in every way, that has characterized most of his composing since early 1967
clearly a case of overkill. In his cautious mood Jarman so dominated his little groups (Clark, bass; drummer Thurman Barker; and for a year, Gaddy) that a minimum of genuine exploration was taking place by a year ago
he was becoming a sort of musical Jackson Pollock, but with a limited palette. Accordingly he reverted briefly to a less romantic manner (adding fresh instrumentalists, blending his gallery of effects with “conventional” rhythms, tempos, formats) with satisfying results. When Mitchell, Bowie and Favors returned from their 1968 San Francisco summer Jarman chose to perform almost exclusively with them, making the Art Ensemble a permanent quartet. It was the best possible move for all concerned.
It is likely that the June, 1967 Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble concert which Terry Martin described in DownBeat was the most important single event in jazz in recent history. That wonderful event had a bitter aftermath; drummer Philip Wilson, a crucial force in the music, lost his steady gig with a well-known Chicago blues singer and shortly wound up travelling with the immensely popular Paul Butterfield Blues Band (which at the time included Mitchell’s former tenor saxophonist Gene Dinwiddie and later added a self-confessedly Mitchell-inspired altoist, the very fluent Davey Sanborn). The “little instruments” thus of necessity gained added importance in the Mitchell group’s music, without adequately replacing the absent percussionist; occasional formal and informal experiments with other drummers hardly even approximated the balance and necessary interplay of that “perfect” quartet
young, adaptable Bob Crowder on a fine recording; one of Mitchell’s original partners, the very talented Alan Fielder; even Wilson on infrequent occasions when the Butterfield and Mitchell bands’ paths crossed.
It became quickly apparent that no messiah was coming to fill Wilson’s place; aside from two or three successes Mitchell, Favors and Bowie could not between themselves replace the absent drummer or invent a three-man music with their odd instrumentation. In time, Mitchell’s own preoccupation with thematic improvisation and an increasing group orientation toward percussion variations changed the very character of the music. The prime disruptive force was Mitchell’s insistence on variations and elaborations of rhythmically very simple themes
on woodwinds, but even more, on the “little instruments”
which sometimes achieved the very banality which a more self-aware Mitchell had on some past occasions referred to as emotional counterpoint to otherwise very wide-ranging improvisations. Bowie came to largely abandon his battery of “little instruments”, a bass drum excepted, but Favors
at most times, the most dependable of the three
has found himself improvising sound effects a la Jarman. On occasion the Art Ensemble demonstrated a clear lack of the group sensitivity that had been its birthright.
But Jarman had frequently worked with the Art Ensemble in earlier times, always performing at his best, leading the other three into abstract areas. Emotionally Jarman seems to thrive on highly structured music built on free-flowing sequences; if Mitchell, Bowie and Favors do not always provide that, they do provide ever-alert, complementary interplay
and in return, Jarman adds an important sonoric density to the group. Moreover, Jarman and Mitchell, together are a perfect partnership; their styles, formed at the same time, are based on similar materials, but where Mitchell’s sound is hard, and true, often harsh, Jarman’s is clear and pure and, when he chooses, more expressive; Jarman, too, is attracted to thematic devices, but they are woven into the fabric of an almost entirely melodic approach, whereas Mitchell’s music is subject to the whims of a flux of emotions and passing thematic fancies; both; of course, are far more variegated saxophonists than this brief rundown can fairly describe, even occasionally exchange styles (if not sounds), and Bowie and Favors, outstanding creators on their respective instruments, reinforce ideally.
Last autumn’s DePaul University concert was a special delight, which enclosed both raging and precisely sensitive ensemble improvisation and very beautiful Jarman alto work within a wistful mid-autumn rural mood; two months later, joining Mitchell to sit in with the locally popular Claudine Myers organ group, Bowie created the finest, most iconoclastic trumpet solos I have yet heard him play
on ballads, rock tunes, and uptempo bop/modal swingers; a month later, all four offered unbelievable individual performances within Richard Abrams’ AACM Big Band. Taken on its current terms, the four man Art Ensemble remains the most creative and far-ranging group in today’s jazz; these are relatively young musicians even now just beginning on an utterly unique journey of musical discovery.
— John B. Litweiler
(Reprinted from Jazz Monthly by kind permission of Albert McCarthy)
Lester Bowie (trumpet, flugel horn, horns, bass drum),Roscoe Mitchell (alto, soprano and bass saxophones, clarinet, flute, whistles, siren, bells, percussion), Joseph Jarman (alto, soprano and tenor saxophones, clarinet, oboe, flute, piano, harpsichord, guitar, percussion
Malachi Favors (bass, fender bass, banjo, cythar, percussion)
1. Toro (Mitchell) 8:25, 2.Lori Song (Jarman) 3:53, 3.That the Evening Sky Fell through the Glass Wall and We Stood Alone Somewhere? (Jarman/Bowie) 5:58, 4.The Spiritual (Mitchell) 20:07
Recorded at Polydor Studios
(Dames II), Paris, 26th June, 1969
Recording Engineers: J.P. Dupuy & P. Quef
Produced by Chris Whent & Alan Bates
Design: Ric Simenson
Photography: Leni Sinclair
This CD has been remastered from the original recording tape. All background noises, such as pops, clicks or other noises have been removed as much as possible without compromising the original recording quality.