JJ 08/72: Art Ensemble Of Chicago – Certain Blacks

Fifty years ago, Barry McRae had reservations when the A.E. of C. bound itself in the rigid structures of the blues. First published in Jazz Journal August 1972


This represents something of a de­parture for the A.E. of C. There has always been a strong blues element in their music, although until now it has tended to remain a latent quality below the surface. On this album it is in the open and on Bye Bye Baby, in parti­cular, it is allowed to blossom out in a stomping juke joint manner. Jarman roars and growls and even the normally subtle Bowie (Bowle on the sleeve) plays a basic trumpet part in which he even makes reference to old blues stylists. To do so he uses devices as­sociated with earlier eras and includes half valve effects which he uses with apposite realism.

One For Jarman also finds the rhythm section stating the beat more specifically than usual, and, al­though this is due to some extent to the rather predictable drum figures from Howell, it makes the solos from Jarman and Finn slightly metronomic in con­ception and the feeling of the number more bluesy. Hearing these players working freely in space always seemed natural and it is significant that they place their notes with equal (if different) skill in a more restricting situation such as this.

Howell’s drumming on Certain Blacks is slightly more diffused and the music is accordingly more adventurous from the rhythmic aspect. Jarman plays through the full range of his horn, slur­ring across the pulse with strongly linear figures and, although Mitchell’s bass sax harnesses his colleague’s flights to some extent, Bowie fashions a superb solo which, although still blues based, has all the tension and excite­ment normally expected of him. As al­ways, Favors is brilliant and, in fact, at times he reacts to the slightly vertical atmosphere with a walking, free-time line that shades as well as lightens the for­ward momentum of the entire group.

Devotees of the group must be warned that at no time do we hear the normal A.E. of C.-type performance. Space plays little part in the make up of the three titles and I feel that the ostinato back­ground on Bye Bye Baby sinks danger­ously near to monotony. These reserva­tions apart, I think it is a successful album. I am just glad that I did not get it as a Blind Fold Test.

Certain Blacks, ‘Do What They Wanna’ (24 min) – One For Jarman; Bye Bye Baby (17 min)
Lester Bowie (tpt); Chicago Beau (ten/pno/hmca/ perc): Julio Fin (hmca); Joseph Jarman (ten/sop) alt/vib/perc); Edward Mitchell Jnr. (bs-sax); Malachl Favors (bs/perc): William A. Howell (dm).
(America 30 AM 6098 £1.80)