The Art Ensemble of Chicago We Are On the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration
Published Jul 29, 2019Legendary frontman Mark E. Smith once famously said that no matter the lineup, any record he was on was a record by the Fall. "If it's me and yer granny on bongos, it's the Fall."
Fellow trailblazers the Art Ensemble of Chicago struck a similar agreement early on. As long as one of the original members was involved — Roscoe Mitchell, Famoudou Don Moye, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors or Joseph Jarman — the project would be branded AE of C.
Sadly, just two of those originals remain, but they are in excellent form, if this new double LP is any indication. Mitchell and Moye have pulled together a 17-piece group under the direction of conductor Stephen Rush. The disc features a studio recording that includes new material, and reworks of classics like "Chi-Congo 50" and "Bell Song." We also get a ripper of a headline set laid down at Ann Arbor, Michigan's Edgefest last October.
The original ensemble's spirit isn't just alive and well. As these two discs make clear, the music is as vibrant and brave today as it was half-a-century ago. The album's title track features a rousing spoken-word contribution by Afro-futurist poet Moor Mother (aka Camae Ayewa). It is a fierce, instant classic.
"We are on the edge of victory," she announces, amidst marching strings and percussion. "After all that dope and dancing and drunkenness, we are on the edge."
The politics of this music are rarely so overt, but Moor Mother's voice is an important one, given the state of things, and her contributions to the collection absolutely sparkle.
Described as a tribute to Bowie, Favors and Jarman, it's difficult not to hear We Are On the Edge without mourning the eventual end of this remarkable collective. The Art Ensemble of Chicago has been a gift, impactful far beyond its city or even the group's expression of the African American experience.
Following ECM's 21-disc retrospective Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Associated Ensembles, this new collection serves as a forward-looking, optimistic companion. (Pi Recordings)