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Art Ensemble of Chicago 

Tribute to Lester

The Meeting (Pi)

Wednesday, Oct 29 2003
Four years ago, the jazz world mourned the sudden loss of Art Ensemble of Chicago trumpeter Lester Bowie, one of the genre's great innovators and a consummate showman whose infectious sense of humor made him, in the words of bassist Malachi Favors, "the most popular member of the group." Beyond his flamboyant performances, Bowie was an outspoken critic of the establishment backlash against the post-'60s avant-garde of which he was a key player. In an interview with this journalist he once called mainstream talking-head Wynton Marsalis "brain-dead" and explained how the censorship of forward-looking jazz was "an organized thing [to feed] that part of the American psyche to have people follow directions and ... not think." In both life and music, Bowie aimed to present an alternative.

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.

About The Author

Sam Prestianni


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