35th Vilnius Jazz Festival. 13-16 October, 2022

The Art Ensemble of Chicago - 50th Anniversary


Roscoe Mitchell – saxes, fl
Don Moye – dr, congas, perc
Hugh Ragin – tps, flgh
Tomeka Reid – cello
Brett Carson – p
Silvia Bolognesi – db
Junius Paul – db, objects
Dudu Kouaté – african perc

We hardly ever imagined that one day Vilnius Jazz stage would host these ambassadors of avant-garde jazz, who have changed the modern music soundscape and influenced many a musicians’ generation.

“The Art Ensemble of Chicago” (AEC) enjoy a critical reputation as the most influential avant-garde jazz ensemble of the 1970s and ‘80s. At the time, it was considered by many to be the finest jazz ensemble in the world. The greatness of the AEC has always been the shared commitment of its original members – Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors and Famoudou Don Moye – to the total realm of music of African diaspora. “Great Black Music – Ancient to the Future” is the group’s motto.

“The Art Ensemble of Chicago” fuses many jazz styles (from its very early ones) with European art music and ingenious African folk styles. Their musical universe is enhanced by the creative use of unique sounds and percussion-aka instruments, traditional hand and stick drums, whistles, horns, bells, chimes, vibes, gongs and an array of home made and found sound objects that serve each individual musician as an extension of their personality on their principal instruments such as winds, keyboards and percussion. Their music echoes everything from insect choruses to full African dance rhythms, fiery solos to simple themes.

According to Jarman, the AEC wasn’t limited to Western instruments, African instruments or Asian instruments or South American instruments or anybody’s instruments – it was an exponent of timeless universe of sound encompassing music from sanctified church services, minstrel shows, poetry and theatre with exotic costumes and painted faces.

All of the AEC members – savvy composers, improvisers and multi-instrumentalists – attained a measure of jazz stardom on their own, but in the AEC no single player was greater than the whole. By giving ample room for each musician the ensemble retained its unique and instantly identifiable sound.

Three members of the ensemble have passed away, but the two that are still with us – Mitchell and Moye – do not recede: they have recruited a group of fifteen highly individual talents who bring their own approaches to “The Art Ensemble of Chicago” aesthetic and help advance the legacy of Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors and Joseph Jarman.

This year the veteran duo with new collaborators released double album We Are On the Edge, featuring compositions that make the core of the current European and American tour. With these performances the AEC salute its 50th anniversary and pay a tribute to Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors Maghostut.

The “Art Ensemble of Chicago” evolved from Roscoe Mitchell’s musical vision, explorations and adventurous collaborations of the early and mid ‘60s.

Prior to the legendary ensemble coming to the fore, trumpeter Lester Bowie and bassist Malachi Favors played in the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet. Together with saxophonist Joseph Jarman the three musicians formed Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, which in turn grew out of Chicago pianist Muhal Richard Abrams’ experimental band, created for the purpose of playing scores written by many of the city’s forward-thinking young composers. Regretfully, that formation did not record.

Mitchell, Jarman and Favors were among the first members of Abrams’ Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) upon its inception in 1965. The Spiritus Movens of Chicago experimental scene, the organisation also fostered the careers of Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith among many other jazz innovators.

Favors had been an established member of the Chicago jazz scene since the ‘50s, while Jarman and Mitchell met while students at Wilson Junior College and started experimenting in music. Lester Bowie moved to Chicago from St. Louis in 1966 and joined the AACM. Within days of arriving he began rehearsing with Mitchell.

In 1966, the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet recorded Sound, the first album to come out of the AACM. The following year led by Bowie, the four musicians, who would become the Art Ensemble, recorded Numbers 1&2 for Delmark label. Philip Wilson would often do the drum part, even though he never formally was a member of the ensemble.

After two years the Roscoe Mitchell’s Art Ensemble decided to continue their musical adventures and travelled together to Paris. Upon their arrival they were immediately contracted to perform a one-month engagement at the legendary Theatre Lucernaire in Montparnasse. They also performed numerous concerts throughout France and proceeded to record albums as a group and individually in collaboration with important American improvisers.

It was in Paris that they met Don Moye, a like-minded percussionist who had come from Detroit with Charles Moore’s band. Don Moye joined the Art Ensemble as a regular member. In 1970, the group recorded soundtrack for the French film Les Stances à Sophie, a cult classic featuring the voice of Fontella Bass (Bowie’s wife). It was the first recording with a new drummer Don Moye.

Renamed the “Art Ensemble of Chicago” the group had a great deal of success in Europe. The impetus for name change came from a French promoter and the musicians liked the idea – it felt that the new name better reflected the distinctive qualities of the Chicagoan music scene and cooperative nature of the group.

Between 1969 and 1971 the AEC released over ten albums on European and American labels, became festival favourites and a powerful influence on native European improvisers and expatriate Americans and Africans.

In 1971, the group returned to Chicago, prepared to find their place in the now-burgeoning free music scene across America. They came to prominence with two albums on Atlantic Records: Bap-Tizum and Fanfare for the Warriors. In 1975, the group formed their own AECO label to issue both solo and ensemble recordings.

Shortly thereafter, the Art Ensemble signed with the hugely influential German label, ECM. That association further widened their audience base, bringing multiple awards, impressive record sales and worldwide tours.

The Ensemble’s demise in the 1990s was inevitable, given changes in critical tastes and the simple passage of time. When Jarman retired from music in 1993 to open a Buddhist dojo, “The Art Ensemble of Chicago” continued as a quartet. After Bowie died of liver cancer in 1999, the group acted as a trio until Jarman’s return in 2003. However, due to Favors’ passing away in 2004 the musicians had to deal with yet another blow to the band’s foundation. A series of personnel changes followed, with trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Shahid being the most regular additions.

From then on, “The Art Ensemble of Chicago” performed live only rarely and released only archival recordings. Last year, to mark the AEC’ 50th anniversary, the ECM released the limited-edition 21-disc box featuring the band’s entire recorded output for the label as well as its individual members’ solo dates and other AACM-associated recordings.

“The Art Ensemble of Chicago” has released more than 70 live performances, studio recordings, videos and DVDs on a variety of labels including Atlantic Records, ECM Records, Disk Union, Nessa Records, Delmark Records, Pi Recordings and their own label AECO Records.

In 1993, Roscoe Mitchell has visited Vilnius Jazz with his quartet featuring Jaribu Shahid, Tani Tabbal and Vincent Davis.

Critics describe Mitchell as a rare jazz musician who also moves comfortably within the realm of contemporary classical music. It might even be said that he is a more convincing artist when working in European-influenced forms. His improvisations exercise extraordinary discipline and intellectual rigor. Whether playing soft or loud, slow or fast, Mitchell’s playing is invariably suffused with passion and intensity.

Mitchell played saxophone and clarinet as a teenager. While stationed in Germany as a member of the Army, he played in a band with saxophone innovator Albert Ayler. Upon returning to the US, Mitchell played with a group of Wilson Junior College students who included Favors, Jarman, Threadgill and Braxton.

Further on, he did not limit himself with the AEC projects. Upon the AEC’s return from European tour, Mitchell established the “Creative Arts Collective”. The group was similar in purpose to the AACM. Mitchell kept expanding on his solo saxophone concept, working with his AACM cohorts in various combinations and performing with the Art Ensemble.

In the ‘80s and ‘90s, Mitchell also led the “Sound Ensemble”, which included members of his “Creative Arts Collective”. In the ‘90s, Mitchell branched out even more, collaborating more frequently with such classical composer/performers as Pauline Oliveros and Thomas Buckner. A trio with Buckner and the virtuoso pianist Borah Bergman was an on-going and effective unit.

Beginning in the 1990s and extending into the 21st century, Mitchell has also performed and recorded extensively as the leader of his “Note Factory” ensemble, a group ranging in size from a sextet to a nonet.

Although he has played with many other prominent free jazz musicians, Don Moye is best known for his work with the “Art Ensemble of Chicago”. Moye immediately added a more explicit rhythmic sensibility upon joining the previously drummer-less group. His mastery of various African and Caribbean percussion instruments and rhythmic techniques sets him apart from other jazz drummers of his generation.

Moye studied percussion at Wayne State University in Detroit, where he worked with trumpeter Charles Moore’s Detroit Free Jazz. Moore’s band travelled to Europe. Once there, Moye travelled the continent and Northern Africa, working with such players as Steve Lacy, Sonny Sharrock and Pharoah Sanders.

Moye has long been active in contexts apart from the Art Ensemble. Before moving to Chicago in 1971, Moye played with musicians associated with the “Black Artists Group” in St. Louis. In the ‘70s, he played with pianist Randy Weston and formed a percussion duo with fellow AACM member Steve McCall.

In 1984, he became a member of “The Leaders”, a collection of avant-jazz all-stars Lester Bowie, Chico Freeman, Arthur Blythe, Don Cherry and Kirk Lightsey.

Moye recorded as a solo percussionist and leader, notably on the Art Ensemble’s own AECO label. He also recorded albums with Enoch Williamson and “Magic Triangle Band”, which he co-led with Jarman.

Trumpeter Hugh Ragin is best known for capably filling the problematic trumpet chair in saxophonist David Murray’s various large ensembles. 

For some time Ragin was mingling between classical music and jazz. After receiving Master Degree in classical trumpet performance from Colorado State University, he attended the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, NY, where he studied composition with Roscoe Mitchell. Before long, he toured with the Roscoe Mitchell/Leo Smith “Creative Orchestra”, as well as Anthony Braxton and Maynard Ferguson.

Ragin first met Murray in 1980 and has been his regular stage partner ever since. Beside his intensive concert itinerary, the trumpeter focuses on pedagogical work.

Cellist and composer Tomeka Reid emerged as one of the most original, versatile, and curious musicians in the Chicago’s bustling jazz and improvised music community over the last decade. Her musical career kicked into gear after moving to Chicago to attend DePaul University for graduate school.

Reid has been a key member of ensembles led by legendary saxophonists like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, as well as a younger generation visionaries including flutist Nicole Mitchell, singer Dee Alexander and drummer Mike Reed.

She is also a co-leader of the adventurous string trio “Hear in Now” (with violinist Mazz Swift and double bassist Silvia Bolognesi) and a leader of the Tomeka Reid Quartet (with Jason Roebke, Tomas Fujiwara and Mary Halvorson).

The cellist is a recipient of awards in music and received her doctorate in music from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. 

Brett Carson is a composer, pianist, improviser, and occasional theatre artist. He has worked in new music, free improvisation, jazz and rock contexts. He has performed and/or recorded with a number of musicians including Bill Baird, Brian Baumbusch, Nicolas Collins, George Lewis, Roscoe Mitchell, Rent Romus and William Winant.

2018 saw the premiere of his experimental chamber opera Just Visiting (X-Ray Vision). His newest project, an apocalyptic piece about the last days of the ancient Koktimô civilization, is set to debut in late 2019.

Silvia Bolognesi, a double bass player, composer and arranger, studied double bass at the R.Franci Institute of Siena. Currently, she teaches double bass and combo class at the Siena Jazz Academy and at “Associazione Mosaico” in Colle Val d’Elsa (Siena); runs workshops. As a double bassist Bolognesi received several awards. She founded and manages her own label “Fonterossa Records”.

Bolognesi partakes in various projects. In 2017, as a member of “Hear in Now” trio she appeared in the “Art Ensemble of Chicago 50th Anniversary” special project.

Bassist, composer and bandleader Junius Paul was born and raised in Chicago. Educated at St. Xavier University in Chicago he is deeply rooted in Chicago music terrain. He works with Mitchell and Moye projects, AACM groups and collaborates with Kahilu El’Zabar, Makaya McCraven, “The Fred Anderson Trio”, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Vincent Davis and “Percussion Plus”, Dee Alexander, “The Curtis Fuller Quintet”, Willie Pickens, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Marquis Hill, Donald Byrd, etc.

Currently, as a Quartet leader he is finishing a debut album, set for release in November 2019.

Percussionist Dudu Kouaté was born in Senegal. Resident of Bergamo, he has for many years been teaching African percussion and the history of traditional African instruments. Kouaté sides in various groups, takes part in theatre projects.

He has recorded CDs and DVDs with the group “Odwalla”, collaborated with Italian saxophonists Guido Bombardieri and Pietro Tonolo. Recently, he has formed his own trio band with saxophonist and Israeli vocalist.  

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