Free Parking for improvisation in multiple environments.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Collectivity

Art Ensemble of Chicago - Oh Strange, Part 2 (Excerpt)
From Live in Paris: Actuel/Fuel 2000 302 061 383 1 [Buy]
Art Ensemble of Chicago - Tnoona
From Fanfare for the Warriors: Koch Jazz 8501 [Buy]

The Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) are probably the single most influential improvising band ever. The Ensemble consists of individually brilliant musicians who submit their voices to a collective process, to create a collective sound. AEC has never been a band of soloists.

This concept of "collectivity" has been a guiding theme throughout the 40 year history of the AEC, but is particularly apparent in early live recordings, such as this extract from Oh Strange, recorded in Paris in October 1969. The personnel are Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors and Joseph Jarman. (Drummer Famadou Don Moye joined AEC the following year).

AEC, 1975: Clockwise from bottom left: Favors, Mitchell, Moye, Bowie, Jarman

The ethos of collectivity extended to their stage presentation. Joseph Jarman explained in an interview in 1999:

"Lester would wear a doctor's coat, the scientist, the experimenter. Roscoe was the businessman, the gentleman. I was sort of the shamanistic image coming from various cultures, so was Malachi and Moye. You know, face painting in non-Western cultures is a sign of collectivism, is a sign of one representing the community, it's not unique at all. But in our society, it's something unique. So what we were doing with that face painting was representing everyone throughout the universe, and that was expressed in the music as well."

Joseph Jarman (Photo Credit: Jacky LePage)

Perhaps the exigencies of recording studio albums encouraged the Ensemble towards more structured work. On Tnoona, a composition of Roscoe Mitchell, we hear the AEC's collective approach to improvisation, but focused towards a compositional goal. Individual voices can be distiguished, but are subsumed into the creation of a unified soundscape.

If you've never seen the Art Ensemble play live, I can highly recommend the Live at the Jazz Showcase DVD, filmed in Chicago in 1981. AEC on stage are highly visual, and this documentary is valuable representation of their approach to perfomance. It's available through


  • At 3:59 PM, Blogger matt said…

    AEC are so great. excellent job etno.

  • At 7:20 PM, Blogger etnobofin said…

    Thanks matt, I hope I have done this great band some justice.

  • At 1:47 AM, Blogger Dom said…

    Just a great ensemble !
    Thanks to give us tracks from them !

    Dom' from


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