Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



Black music quintet: Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, reeds; Lester Bowie, trumpet, flugelhorn (see also individual entries); Malachi Favors (b 22 August 1927, Chicago; d there 30 January 2004 of pancreatic cancer), bass; Don Moye (b 23 May 1946, Rochester NY), percussion. All but Moye had been members of the AACM (which see). Jarman had led an informal group with Charles Clark (b 11 March 1945, Chicago; d there of brain haemorrhage 15 April 1969; played bass and cello), Christopher Gaddy (b 8 April 1943, Chicago; d there 12 March 1968; piano); and Thurman Barker (drums), with others they made LPs Song For and (after Gaddy's death) As If It Were The Seasons; Mitchell made sextet LP Sound which included Bowie and Favors (all on Delmark '67-8). Mitchell's Art Ensemble made Old/Quartet in May '67 with Bowie, Favors and drummer Phillip Wilson: released '75 on Nessa, it is their 'basement tapes' (but well recorded, by Terry Martin); a good introduction to their deceptively casual brilliance, full of soul roots.

Chuck Nessa had been a producer at Delmark; the first release on his own label was Numbers 1&2 '67, under Bowie's name, with Bowie, Mitchell and Favors; the sleeve shows Mitchell's painting of Wilson, Bowie and Favors: 'returns Picasso's Three Musicians to their African source' (G. Giddins), but Wilson had left the group. (Wilson, b 8 September 1941 in St Louis, worked for Paul Butterfield to make some money, but remained faithful to more challenging music; he was murdered 25 March 1992 in Manhattan. A man was arrested and convicted of premeditated murder.) Congliptuous '68 came out on Nessa as by the Roscoe Mitchell Art Ensemble, with Robert Crowder (b 22 October 1946, Atlanta) on drums; the first side of the LP has famous unaccompanied solos for bass, alto sax and trumpet. (A limited edition five-CD set in 1993 restored all this plus nearly three hours of unreleased material; see entry for Nessa.) The deaths of Gaddy and Clark, brilliant and much-loved colleagues, stirred the group to action: they formed a co-operative and went to Paris, where they recruited Moye '69 (he had played with Steve Lacy, Pharoah Sanders, others; recorded with Randy Weston, Hamiett Bluiett; own albums include Sun Percussion '75, Afrikan Song '95 on AECO).

The quintet became the best-known group playing what some might call avant-garde jazz, but which defies labels, except for 'Great Black Music'. Mitchell and Jarman were the main composers, but the entire group contributed; all played 'little instruments': steer horns, whistles, gongs, drums, rattles, sirens, etc inspired by African music. Their work swells and roars with collective improvisation, contains essences of black music, plus marches, dada, drollery, and silence. The theatrical act included painted faces, sometimes recitation, mime etc providing levels of reference and invoking community spirit. People In Sorrow is a tone poem recorded in Boulogne '69; the tape ran out before they stopped playing, but like the story it tells the piece was not finished anyway: heard again at London's Roundhouse twelve years later its richness was still developing; like all good music, theirs was a live art, a record only a souvenir. Les Stances à Sophie '70 was a film soundtrack with Fontella Bass, also made in Boulogne; these two albums were leased from Pathé by Nessa and later issued on CD on other labels.

A Message To Our Folks displayed roots: 'Old Time Religion', 'Rock Out', Charlie Parker's 'Dexterity', as well as group comp. 'Brain For The Seine'; several more LPs were made in '69 in a burst of urgency (some now on Affinity CDs; Tutankhamun and The Spiritual were on Freedom). Certain Blacks, Go Home, Chi Congo were made '70; Phase One '71 incl. 'Lebert Aaly', dedicated to Albert Ayler, later appeared on Prestige, as did The Art Ensemble Of Chicago with Bass including Mitchell's 'Horn Web'. Back in the USA ('We missed the stimulation of the ghetto,' said Bowie) they allegedly made fun of traditional blues singers at Ann Arbor Blues Festival '72: this piece of theatre had the advantage of outraging young white trendies. The Festival LP Bap-Tizum was their first release on a major label, produced by Michael Cuscuna, as was Fanfare For The Warriors '73, both on Atlantic. Among many other albums: Live At Mandel Hall '72 on Delmark made on U of Chicago campus; Muhal Richard Abrams played on Fanfare and on Kabalaba from Montreux '74.

Nice Guys '78 and Full Force '80 were their first on ECM: on the latter Mitchell and Jarman play twelve reed and woodwind instruments (and little ones), Favors contributes composition 'Magg Zalma', Jarman's 'Old Time Southside Street Dance' precedes the 'Full Force'. Urban Bushmen '80 was two discs of shamanism; though a studio set it captured the flavour of the live act, in Jarman's words ' blooming through concrete, gong with trumpet announcing the present...' Among The People '80 was made live in Italy. Sharing a bill with a rock act at London's Royal Festival Hall in late 1984 they were poorly served by the sound; there can be no subtlety in earsplitting volume. Film Art Ensemble Of Chicago made in Chicago '83 by Bright Thoughts Company for UK's Channel 4 TV; the title of Third Decade '84 on ECM raised the hope of continuing evangelism, and starting in 1987 they made several sets for the Japanese DIW label, now distributed in the West: Live In Japan, Dreaming Of The Masters Vol. I: Ancient To The Future '87, Naked '88, Alternate Express '89; Live At Tokyo Music Joy 90 included Bowie's Brass Fantasy group, and Art Ensemble Of Soweto '90 the Amabutho Male Chorus. Dreaming Of The Masters Vol. II: Thelonious Sphere Monk was followed by Dreaming Of The Masters Suite. Jarman retired and the remaining quartet made Coming Home Jamaica '96 on Atlantic. After Bowie's death from cancer Jarman came back for The Meeting on Pi and Tribute To Lester on ECM. Favors had added 'Maghostut' to his name, an Egyptian word meaning 'I am the host': he was the oldest member of the group (who habitually lopped ten years off his age, a running gag which fooled no one), a venerable and influential Chicago musician; with his death their long run left us with the recordings, where their spirit remains intact. A lineup toured in Spain in June 2006 with guests Corey Wilkes on trumpet (from Richton Park IL, his own CD on Delmark) and Jaribu Shahid on bass (from Detroit MI, a history with Mitchell's various groups going back at least to 1980).