When the Art Ensemble of Chicago arrived at OTO for a sold out residency in February we were over the moon to host a group who’d been on our wishlist since the day we opened. The three evenings that followed exceeded our wildest expectations and fully confirmed the Art Ensemble’s legendary status as one of the greatest free-music groups of all time.
Now into their fifth decade, the group has lost none of the verve or boldness of invention that has characterised them from the start; the impact and influence that The Art Ensemble of Chicago have had cannot be overstated and they remain an utterly essential live experience. At turns soulful, chaotic, energising and transcendant – playful yet attentive, generous but untethered – the AEC helped redefine what jazz music could be and continue to seek out its future. We’re thrilled to have them back.
“A legendary band that created new standards not only for improvisation but for performance as well” – All Music
“One of the most enduring units dedicated to free improvisation and modern jazz composition in existence.” – Pitchfork
The AEC Is an avant-garde jazz ensemble that grew out of Chicago in the late 1960s. Art ensemble is notable for its integration of musical styles that span jazzes entire history and further multi-instrumentalism. They have used what they term little instruments from bicycle horns, bells, birthday party noisemakers, wind chimes, and a vast array of percussion instruments. They also include costumes and face paint in performance. All these characteristics combine to make the ensemble’s performances a visual spectacle along with an auditory one.
Back in the mid-60s the members of Art Ensemble performed under various and names but they began to play together and record in 1967.
Then members were all multi-instrumentalists and played many saxophones, many different flutes and clarinets. Their sound included the flugelhorn, the cornets, shofar and conch shells, with banjo and bass guitar and of course the piano and synthesizer. The group traveled to Paris where they became known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. The group performed the soundtrack for the French movie Les Stances a Sophie and it has remained a cult classic ever since. In 1972 the ensemble returned to the United States with a quintet of Mitchell, Jarman, Bowie, Favors and Moye and remained together till 1993. There are two major releases from Atlantic records are Baptism and Fanfare for the Warriors. They gave each other freedom to pursue other musical interests and these conditions contributed to the longevity of the ensemble. They’ve released more than 20 studio recordings and several live albums between 1972 and 2004.
The makeup of the ensemble has since changed when Jarman retired from the group to focus on his practice of Zen. Bowie died of liver cancer and the group became a trio until 2003 when Jarman rejoined the ensemble. But in 2004 Favors died and the group was joined by a new trumpeter Corey Wilkes and bassist Jaribu Shahid and his group recorded a live CD called Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City.
Ensemble members embrace performance art and they believe this allows the band to move beyond the strict limits of jazz and tap into a wide variety of musical styles and influences. Music is more interesting when it is not limited to Western, African, Asian, South American instruments or anyone’s instruments for that matter.