Art Ensemble of Chicago: The Sixth Decade From Paris to Paris review | John Fordham’s jazz album of the month

A live set celebrating the group’s 50th anniversary loops in a 20-piece orchestra, rousing poetry and new improvisers among the hardcore veterans

Long ago, I wrote in the Guardian that a 1980 London performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago – Lester Bowie (trumpet), Joseph Jarman (saxes), Malachi Favors Maghostut (bass), Roscoe Mitchell (sax and composition) and Famoudou Don Moye (percussion) – had felt “like a sermon, a drama … and a history lesson all at once”. The late great American jazz sage Nat Hentoff went further, suggesting the band was “reaching back conceptually to long before there ever was anything called jazz, and moving toward a future beyond category.”

The words could have been a blueprint for this 50th anniversary Art Ensemble set, recorded at France’s festival Sons d’Hiver in 2020 and led by Mitchell and Moye, the band’s surviving elders. For the project, they brought a 20-piece international chamber orchestra into the fold. The new formation includes contemporary-classical progressives and Art Ensemble-inspired improvisers alike, such as poet and musician Camae Ayewa, AKA Moor Mother, a polemical vocalist with young Afrofuturist collective Irreversible Entanglements.

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