I added my review below to my January 12, 2019 Facebook posting of the New York Times obituary of Joseph Jarman, who had died on January 9.
ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO
BY W. ROYAL STOKES
MAY 5, 1979
The uninitiated were astonished and the cognoscenti reconfirmed Thursday night at the Bayou as the Art Ensemble of Chicago, in a single piece lasting seventy-five minutes, presented an impressionistic musical summary of jazz that began with its roots in West African rhythms and the blues and followed its development to the current avant-garde of the art form.
With some of its members in native African dress and their faces bedecked with paint, the ensemble began in silent prayer, facing the East. Melodica, shell, whistle, gourds, and trumpet provided an intro, followed by a fierce monologue of hoarse growls and strident falsetto by Joseph Jarman. “We ain’t proposin’ no answer—just askin’ a question” was his coda.
Suddenly, we were back in the 1920s with a no-holds-barred polyphonic New Orleans stomp. One could hear Louis Armstrong in Lester Bowie’s trumpet and Sidney Bechet in Jarman’s soprano saxophone, Roscoe Mitchell’s clarinet wove in and out contrapuntally, and Malachi Favors slapped away at his bass while drummer Famoudou Don Moye kept up a driving four/four.
Segments such as this (another took us back to the big band era, riffs and all) were interspersed with passages of all descriptions: Mitchell and Jarman played extended, sometimes unaccompanied, solos that explored the entire range of their instruments; Bowie produced enormous trombone-like growls and squeezed-out shrieks; Favors and Moye played in different tempos.
Then all Hell would break loose—Bowie cutting through the tremolos of the reeds with great foghorn blasts and rapid arpeggios in high register, Favors shaking No. 10 cans, Moye propelling them all with ferocious intensity. Abruptly, Favors rushed to stage front, mallet and Chinese gong in hand, and, with one resounding note, ended the concert.
The Art Ensemble’s music is chaotic, ecstatic, and cumulative in its energy. It is irreverent, even outrageous, yet both a paean to the past and window to the future.
I ADDED A COMMENT TO MY FACEBOOK POSTING, PREFACED BY A CLARIFICATION.
The interview that I excerpted from below was done at the 1982 noon-midnight Kool Jazz Festival at the Kennedy Center (in all four theaters plus halls, etc.), which my wife Erika, son Sutton (then 7), and I attended. (Erika was five months pregnant with our son Neale, so he was there too!) I ducked backstage for a half hour or so to tape an interview with Lester. Richard Harrington was upstairs in an office with a huge desk computer he had lugged over from the Washington Post, taking feeds from yours truly and two other Post reviewers and writing the 3000-word review for the paper (which had his byline—our names were also at the head, as contributors to the piece).
FROM AN INTERVIEW WITH ART ENSEMBLE MEMBER LESTER BOWIE AT THE 1982 KOOL JAZZ FESTIVAL AT WASHINGTON, D.C.’S KENNEDY CENTER, MAY 30, 1982
Lester told me, “I’m going to play trumpet until I’m sixty and on my sixtieth birthday [October 11, 2001] I’m retiring . . . because I’ve learned that I can live exactly the way I want to live and I really don’t want to walk on that stage every night playing for a living. I’ll probably be involved with music and playing somewhat for the rest of my life, in a teaching situation, maybe lecturing, or just writing books or something, but I’m not going to be walking on that stage every night.” Lester died of cancer in 1999.
That interview became the basis of a seven-page profile of Lester in my 1991 The Jazz Scene: An Informal History from New Orleans to 1990, in which he talks of his life and career and about the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 1969 “triumphant trip to Paris,” alluded to in the New York Times obituary of Joseph Jarman.