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ART ENSEMBLE OF CHICAGO

«Full Force»
ECM 1167

Once upon a time there was a bunch of young guys who were not happy with their lives, and especially with their working possibilities in their native Chicago. Though they were active members of AACM, an organisation which provided gigs,workshops etc. And though they had recorded a few albums for Nessa label. However, this wasn’t enough. Too few gigs and hardly any respect or esteem from the society.

So they decided to make a move. Not to the west to dig cold, but to the east where their music would be considered art and it would get bigger and definitely more open minded audiences in their concerts. So the direction was Paris. Just like many others from Sidney Bechet on, American musicians settled down to Europe to get the recognition they needed and their music deserved.

Little did they know back then what would happen. They didn’t even know how long the trip would last. No plans what so ever. But what happened was that the basic backbone of the band, after some changes in the line-up, became one of the most respected and appreciated avant-garde bands in the history of jazz?

AEC is remembered not only for their music. Their face paintings, clothing and a numerous collection of small instruments (bicycle horns, bells, chimes, children’s toys whistles etc etc.) were also AEC trade marks. And all that was part of their basic philosophy: their art was much more than just music. They were performing artists long before performances didn’t exist like nowadays. (By the way: Just think what kind of  pain in the ass their 500 kilos equipment was for roadies, stage crews and airlines).

When «Full Force» was made they had all that stuff with them. Though it was a studio session, it very much sounds like a live concert. A lot of improvisation mixed within the frames of compositions. Malachi Favors’s «Magg Zelma» opens the album and covers most of the Side 1. It starts with various small instruments. It offers magic soundscapes, fast tempos and Lester Bowie’s fierce trumpet solo. Among other things. The very short «Care Free» by Roscoe Mitchell offers first really grazy free playing but ends up with a clear and nice theme.

Side 2 starter Bowie’s «Charlie M» (no doubt a tribute to Charles Mingus) is strongly based on the strong bass lines by Malachi Favors who also has a great bass solo. Bowie, however, is the major figure here, playing the theme and a long solo. In both of them his rusty growl playing gives a significant sound to the song.

Joseph Jarman’s «Old Time Southside Street Dance» has a short theme in the beginning and the end. But mostly it is based on soloing. Through out the piece there is a super fast tempo on. Don Moye beats his drums like hell and everybody else, Jarman, Mitchell, Bowie and Favors play long solos. Just before the ending theme there is also an impressive bass & drums battle between Favors and Moye.

The title theme «Full Force» is marked on all five musicians’ names. And that is exactly how it sounds like, too. Not a real composition but pure collective improvisation. And as well performed as could be when five great musicians improvise with common mutual experience which has lasted for years and years. Various small instruments, flutes and percussions offer the real and familiar-feeling sound of Art Ensemble Of Chicago. A great end to a fantastic album.

«Full Force» is, in my humble opinion, perhaps the best ever album they did in their long career with the basic line-up that was together for about 30 years. Not before, not after this ‘basic five’ couldn’t do any better. «Full Force» is a fine, mature and serene album from the AEC prime time.

I understand very well that other kind of opinions appear. Some might prefer the anarchistic Paris time album «A Jackson in Your House» (1969, Byg Actuel) or two fine ECM recordings, «Nice Guys» (1978) or «Urban Bushmen» (1980 like «Full Force»). Or their Numero Uno could be any of numerous albums for Nessa, Byg Actuel, ECM or DIW.

The stage is open to any kind of opinions. Just make sure you remember their motto: Great Black Music – ancient to the future!

Timo Vähäsilta

Lester Bowie (tp), Joseph Jarman (reeds, fl, etc.), Roscoe Mitchell (reeds, fl, etc.), Malachi Favors Maghostus (b, perc, voc), Famoudou Don Moye (dr, perc, etc)