Sunday, 28 June 2009

Art Ensemble of Chicago - 'A Jackson in Your House / Message to Our Folks' (Charly)

This two-fer-one CD was a bargain when I ordered it from Forced Exposure some years ago, just after Charley had put out that Jazzactuel box and was starting to reish individual BYG/Actuel titles. These two albums were recorded at the beginning of the Art Ensemble's fruitful Parisian residency and fit together well because of their playful, balls-out quality. (The intervening People in Sorrow fits its title and is best served on its own -- we'll hit that next on Vinyl Underbite). The CD is not a format I am fond of and these 2-for-1s are particularly troublesome because it's easy to lose sight of when one album ends and the other begins. Not only do we lose the bifurcated essence of the LP, but in this case we smash four distinct sides of vinyl into one. Well. As I said a few sentences ago, these fit together well because both records are rather unpredictable and lively. Listening to this (which comes after those earlier AACM records we'll see later, such as Congliptious, Sound, etc.) it's remarkable what a completely new approach to music these guys were having. The subject of our first title track isn't clear to me but I've always thought of Pollock instead of Michael, Jesse, Stonewall, etc. A melody rooted in Dixieland forms shoots out like an announcement, but these Dadaists leave in long moments of quietude, smashed right in the middle of the songs. If this isn't the musical drizzling of paint-on-canvas then I don't know what is. The subtitle on the disc says "great black music" and I guess that was their attempt to define some new genre. I'm willing to argue that they succeeded. Why are these guys always lumped in with free jazz? Yeah, they use jazz instruments, but only somewhat -- they have as much in common with Sonny Simmons as Keith Rowe does with Buckethead. There are dense bursty bits that are chaotic and active, and certainly there is a strong sense of freedom, but these records are really blueprints for another means of expression. Traditions are all over the place but it's as much African drumming (like on the long 'Song for Charles') or oratorial, spoken poetry. Put together you have an overstuffed CD that can be draining to listen to, despite the great passages of calm. I'm slightly worried about overdoing it on Art Ensemble of Chicago, as the nature of this project means there's gonna be about 9 in a row after this, not that I'd ever dislike listening to any of the records. I'm more worried I'm going to run out of words to describe them. These two albums, while a great place to start, already are vastly more complex than I am capable of describing and I've already written enough here without even saying much about most of the record. So hold on for the ride, it's going to be busy, bumpy, and chock full of brilliance that each listen only reveals in the form of a glimpse. Also comes with lengthy liner notes in English and German but I'm too lazy to read them.

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