The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Ancient in the Future, Vol. 1

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Considered by some to be the Art Ensemble's "pop" record, this album is also one of the very best from the latter portion of their career. Aside from the opening medley of Don Moye's percussion-laden "Sangaredi" and Joseph Jarman's lovely, soulful "Blues for Zen," the record consists of cover versions of great black music "hits" from Ellington to Fela. By and large, the renditions are both utterly respectful of their sources and inspired in their discovery of hitherto untapped reserves of beauty therein. Bowie's mute manipulation on "Creole Love Call" would stun many a detractor, strutting imperiously over Favor's plangent and deep tones. Mitchell's gutbucket tenor solo on Otis Redding's "These Arms of Mine" gets down and dirty as the group riffs with sensuous abandon behind him. The band would later include reggae-influenced numbers in their recordings with regular frequency, but their version of "No Woman No Cry" is perhaps their highest achievement in that genre. Bowie, who lived for a while in Jamaica, is entirely at home here, his trumpet never sounding richer or more relaxed. But the real payoff, after a fun dust-up with "Purple Haze," is Fela Kuti's "Zombie." Moye sets up and maintains an impossibly furious tempo throughout the song, providing, with Favors, a powerfully surging underpinning that allows the soloists to tear into it without restraint. While Mitchell serves up one of his wonderful, willfully against the grain alto solos, Jarman's tenor soars righteously above the fray for some delicious counterpoint, bringing this fine album to a riveting and exhilarating conclusion.

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