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2019 Chicago Jazz Festival Preview: Art Ensemble of Chicago

By Hrayr Attarian

The final performance on Friday, August 30—the second day of the Chicago Jazz Festival—will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC). Arising out of saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell’s various groups, AEC was, and remains, revolutionary in its groundbreaking musical style. In fact, the quintet called Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble—which included trumpeter Lester Bowie—was rechristened in Paris as Art Ensemble of Chicago during its 1969 European tour.

Of the original members, only Mitchell and percussionist Famoudou Don Moye are still alive. Yet the spirit of the AEC lives on among younger generations of adventurous musicians. This is evident on the double-disc release on Pi Recordings titled We Are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration. The two sessions included here, one a live concert and the other recorded in the studio, showcase Mitchell and Moye in the company of fourteen other like-minded artists. Most, if not all, are affiliated with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Music (AACM). The orchestra on this stimulating album pays tribute to departed bandmates such as Bowie, multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman, and bassist Malachi Favors by performing such pieces as Favors’ “Chi-Congo” and Bowie’s “Villa Tiamo.”

Given that the performance is billed as a 50th anniversary celebration of AEC, it stands to reason that, like the CD, this program will include pieces by Bowie, Favors, and Jarman, as well as ones in homage to them. Mitchell and Moye will be joined, among others, by innovative and virtuosic cellist Tomeika Reid. As with past performances the AEC is guaranteed to thrill, provoke, and move. AEC’s music is absorbing and rewarding both intellectually and spiritually. Its fiery spontaneity laden with contemplation, and its expansive thematic reach—aptly stated in AEC’s motto “Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future”—make the ensemble’s work the very embodiment of the avant-garde.

Art Ensemble of Chicago performs Friday, August 30, from 7:45 p.m. to 9 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

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