As one might guess from this band's full name, Théâtre du Chêne Noir d'Avignon, Chêne Noir was a troupe of musicians and actors from the city of Avignon in southeast France. Avignon in fact is famous for its numerous theater companies and the name refers to both the performance group and the ancient chapel where they are headquartered. Many similar groups -- such as Principal Edwards Magic Theater, Grand Magic Circus, and Floh de Cologne -- in the early '70s throughout Europe blended rock with theater, but Chêne Noir, more avant-garde than most, deserves special note for its blend of improvised jazz and rock, spoken word, dance, and theatrics. Musician and writer Gerard Gelas founded Chêne Noir in 1968 as a way to create ceremonies to release the full potential of humanity and push the performers physically and psychological to the limits. Though occasionally the troupe put on material by Molière, Alfred Jarry, and other more obscure French writers, their main focus was on original material by Gelas and the others in the group. In 1971, the legendary experimental jazz label Futura released the group's first album, Aurora, recorded from a May 1971 performance of a piece in their repertoire since September 1970. Whereas on this debut, Chêne Noir was a seven-piece and by the late '70s when they released a couple more albums, Chant pour le Delta la Lune et le Soleil and Orphee 2000, on their own label, they had filled out to ten members. Meanwhile, the physical theater itself provided a performance space to other acts over the years; in 1972, both Magma and Steve Lacy performed there and for Lacy, it was the very first of his many solo concerts. The Chêne Noir company has continued to perform throughout the last several decades into the new millennium, either at the chapel or on tour to other parts of France, Moscow, Poland, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Algeria, and even Canada.
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