Recorded at a 1980 concert in Munich, Urban Bushmen not only provides an excellent summation of the Art Ensemble of Chicago's work since 1966, but also substantiates the group's reputation for putting on intense and inspired shows. The album centers around three extended pieces: reed player Joseph Jarmen's "Theme for SCO," the group's "Urban Magic," and reed player Roscoe Mitchell's "Uncle." Over the course of these multi-part "suites," the group effectively blurs the lines between jazz and free jazz, deftly working through New Orleans' marches, turbulent hard bop, highlife/reggae rhythms, and minimalist sound sculptures; while Jarmen, Mitchell, and trumpeter Lester Bowie come up with consistently varied and surprising solo/tandem contributions, drummer Don Moye and bassist Malachi Favors expand the sound with an array of percussion effects and humorous interjections (sirens, car horns, megaphone rants). Moye and Favors are also featured on the percussion vehicles "Promenade: Cote Bamako I & II," "Bush Magic," and "Sun Preconditions II." The set is balanced out by melancholic and sweet ballads by Bowie and Mitchell ("New York Is Full of Lonely People" and "Peter and Judith," respectively). This is one of the Art Ensemble's best recordings, but due to its intense breadth it might not be an ideal first purchase for newcomers. The best entry point into the group's catalog would be a studio record like Nice Guys (1978) or Third Decade (1984).
AllMusic Review by Stephen Cook
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2