The Meeting (Pi) By Sam Prestianni Wednesday, Oct 29 2003
Though the trumpeter led a number of bands over the years, he is best remembered for his three-decade collaboration with the Art Ensemble, a trailblazing combo that redefined the meaning of jazz with its rallying cry, "Great Black Music -- Ancient to the Future." A pair of extraordinary new recordings by the surviving members -- Tribute to Lester (a trio) and The Meeting (trio plus Joseph Jarman) -- carry on the outfit's tradition of respecting the music's African roots while exploring its outermost possibilities. Both of the albums rank at the top of the band's considerable discography and highlight, as expected, the players' multi-instrumental virtuosity.
The discs feature trademark motifs: spacious meditations (on flutes, recorders, and chimes), stunning percussive tracks (with Don Moye's African drums and Roscoe Mitchell's polychromatic "percussion cage"), groove-deep tunes with bent but soulful saxophone melodies (old-school N'awlins meets postmodern Chi-town), and full-throttle collective improvs. Conventional jazz arrangements (melody, solos, melody) mark a couple of tracks on Tribute, while Meeting tends to take a more abstract route throughout. Though Lester Bowie's presence is surely missed, the spirit of the Art Ensemble lives on.