Art Ensemble Of Chicago: Les Stances A Sophie (2008)
They formed, of course, in the American city that constitutes part of their band moniker. But this 1970 album by the Art Ensemble Of Chicago, re-released on Soul Jazz, was in fact recorded in Paris, the four main AEOC members having formed part of the late '60s exodus that also brought to France Archie Shepp, Don Cherry and Anthony Braxton.
The location is significant because Les Stances A Sophiea soundtrack for a 1971 New Wave film of the same title, though the fact that the album pre-dates the film accounts for its stand-alone strengthis a record they would surely never have made had they stayed home. That's true in the most literal sense, because it was in France that they befriended the film's director, Moshe Mizrahi. But it's also true in broader artistic terms, the European location shining through most explicitly in the two tracks inspired by Italian Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi, "Variations Sur Un Theme De Monteverdi i" and "ii."
Yet Western classical music formed only a relatively small part of the AEOC's outlandish vision, self-defined simply as Great Black Music: Ancient To Future. More important was indigenous African music (every member plays percussion as well as their main instrument, and some are pictured on the front cover in trademark tribal facepaint) and jazz. "Theme Libre" and "Theme De Celine" both contain the sort of free jazz freak-outs for which the Ensemble are probably best known; elsewhere the influence of blues and older jazz Forms can be felt, as well as the more obviously cinematic, low-key atmospherics of "Theme Amour Universal" and "Proverbes i."
Easily the most immediate track, however, is opener "Theme De Yoyo," where the band is joined by vocalist (and wife of trumpeter Lester Bowie) Fontella Bass, she of soul classic "Rescue Me." As the only tune previously easily available, some fans will already know it as a minor cult classicbut surely no amount of familiarity can dull the potency of these nine minutes of rapturous soul jazz.
Track Listing: Theme De Yoyo; Theme De Celine; Variations Sur Un Theme De Monteverdi i; Variations Sur Un Theme De Monteverdi ii; Proverbes i; Theme Amour Universal; Theme Libre; Proverbes ii.
Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell: soprano, alto and bass saxophones, clarinet, flute, percussion; Joseph Jarman: tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flut, percussion; Lester Bowie: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Malachi Favors: acoustic bass, electric bass, percussion; Don Moye: drums; Fontella Bass: vocals, piano.