The Art Ensemble of Chicago play tonight at Café Oto, but I’m too late to get tickets, they’re all sold out. Instead I remember their performance at The Roundhouse in 1982, as part of the Camden Jazz Festival. They were astonishing and spectacular, unlike any other band, and able to encapsulate the whole history of jazz with wild improvisations and swinging ensemble playing and breathtaking solos. They were sweet and fiery and dynamic and funny and possibly the best band I ever saw. Here are four videos from Polish television of a performance in Warsaw, probably from the same tour, and the closest I can find to my memory of that fantastic night in Camden.
Lester Bowie: trumpet;
Joseph Jarman: saxophones, flute, percussion;
Roscoe Mitchell: saxophones, flute, percussion,
Malachi Favors Maghostus: bass, melodica, percussion;
Famoudou Don Moye: drums, percussion.
The Art Ensemble of Chicago is an avant-garde jazz group that grew out of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the late 1960s. The ensemble integrates many jazz styles and plays many instruments, including “little instruments”: bells, bicycle horns, birthday party noisemakers, wind chimes, and various forms of percussion. The musicians wear costumes and face paint while performing. These characteristics combine to make the ensemble’s performances both aural and visual. While playing in Europe in 1969, five hundred instruments were used.
“So what we were doing with that face painting was representing everyone throughout the universe, and that was expressed in the music as well. That’s why the music was so interesting. It wasn’t limited to Western instruments, African instruments, or Asian instruments, or South American instruments, or anybody’s instruments.”