Art Ensemble of Chicago: Oh Strange, Pt. 1


Oh Strange, Pt. 1


Art Ensemble of Chicago


Live in Paris (Charly SNAD 512)

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Roscoe Mitchell (reeds, percussion), Lester Bowie (trumpet, percussion), Joseph Jarman (reeds, percussion), Malachi Favors Maghostut (bass, percussion).

Composed by Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman & Malachi Favors Maghostut


Recorded: Paris, October 5, 1969


Rating: 80/100 (learn more)

This is the first half of a nearly hour-long collective improvisation recorded live in concert by the Art Ensemble in the early days of its existence, when the group was headquartered in Paris. "Oh Strange" is the band at its free-est, playing without benefit of a preordained structure. Absent is drummer Don Moye; percussion responsibilities are therefore shared by the other band members, who play various drums, cymbals and other small instruments.

The performance follows a rather typical free jazz template of addition and subtraction, with players coming together in various combinations during its course. An alto saxophonist (Joseph Jarman, presumably) starts by blowing expressive, abstracted phrases over a bed of inconstant African/jazz percussion and vocal chants. He's succeeded by trumpeter Lester Bowie, who engages in the sort of tonal experimentation for which he was so well known. A dramatic arc is discernible yet camouflaged by the highly compressed, lo-fi recording, which reduces everything to the same volume, more or less. On the surface, the lack of dynamic contrast gives the music a rambling, purposeless quality. Careful listening has its rewards, certainly, but it's likely only a diehard Art Ensemble fan will put in the necessary work. Overall, "Oh Strange" is more valuable as a historical document than as an example of the band at its best.

Reviewer: Chris Kelsey

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