The Art Ensemble of Chicago

Live in Paris

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Recorded in 1969, Live in Paris follows two studio albums that the Art Ensemble cut for BYG/Actuel during the same year -- A Jackson in Your House and Message to Our Folks. What Parisian audiences must have made of the band with its wild makeup and costumes can only be debated, but the music contained on this double-CD reissue of the original double album is stellar (the LP was issued on the Arista Freedom label in the United States in 1974 and this set was originally issued by Charly in the United Kingdom in 2002). Each CD features one composition, divided into two parts, in keeping with the LP releases. "Oh, Strange," by Joseph Jarman and Lester Bowie, begins with a very short, bluesy jazz theme that is augmented almost immediately with all manner of percussion instruments, which multiply until they literally take over, leaving Jarman and Mitchell, who knottily play a folk song variation on the opening theme that is articulated over moans, groans, and droning baritone and tenor saxophones. Dynamics and tension begin to gradually shift as notions of tempo, and even striated harmonics, are laid waste in the din. But this far from unlistenable noise; in fact, perhaps now in the 21st century more than ever before, the freewheeling improvisations of the Art Ensemble make a kind of syntagmatic sense. On the other monolithic piece here, "Bon Voyage," written by Bowie, the Art Ensemble is accompanied by the composer's then-wife, singer Fontella Bass, who recorded "Les Stances à Sophie" with them later (Famoudou Don Moye was not yet a member of the ensemble). Bass uses her rhythm and blues grit and gospel dynamics and control to improvise alongside the bandmembers, who have to make plenty of room for her contribution. There is a wondrous tension at play in the oppositional fields of male and female energies here. Bass swoops, glides, hollers, moans, and sings her way into the maelstrom of space. This is the finest live recording by the Art Ensemble, and documents the first tour of a legendary band that created new standards not only for improvisation but for performance as well. Now that Lester Bowie and Malachi Favors Maghostus have left this world, reissues like this help listeners to remember how enormous their accomplishments were.

Track Listing - Disc 2

Sample Title/Composer Performer Time
1 21:33
2 24:06
blue highlight denotes track pick