The Art Ensemble of Chicago: Folkus
The Art Ensemble of Chicago
Nice Guys (ECM 1126)
Composed by Famoudou Don Moye.
Recorded: Ludwigsburg, Germany, May 1978
Rating: 90/100 (learn more)
When the Art Ensemble of Chicago showed up at a studio in Ludwigsburg, Germany to record for ECM, it was as surprising (at least to jazz fans) as the Berlin Wall coming down. To many advocates of Free Jazz, ECM was the Evil Empire, dismissed as a reactionary attempt to infuse too strong a dose of European influences into the jazz vocabulary, thus watering down the music's inherent vitality. (Phew, that was a mouthful.) Such rhetoric may seem a little overheated today, but back in the 1970s the current pluralistic, open jazz environment had not yet been established, and those at the cutting (bleeding?) edge tended to believe that jazz presented a linear progression that allowed no turning back! But here we found the leading avant-garde band of the era showing up as "nice guys" and joining hands with their European brethren -- in a release appropriately named Nice Guys.
But the Art Ensemble didn't get too nice -- and things get very edgy if you try saying this song title after your second drink at the nightclub. The lengthy "Folkus" track includes all their usual stock-in-trade: lots of dissonance, minimalist interludes, criss-crossing horn lines, background-music-as-foreground-music, and enough percussion instruments to fill a museum of membranophones and idiophones. Not nice enough, perhaps, for many ECM fans, but a historic moment by any measure . . . and an event signaling both the end of ECM's early years and the arrival of the new postmodern jazz world of peace and brotherhood.
Reviewer: Ted Gioia