In 1969 the newly formed Art Ensemble left their home city and headed for France, there acquiring drummer Don Moye and a more precise title. Their two-year stay yielded some 15 albums, including this glorious oddity, a soundtrack to an obscure French New Wave film recorded before an inch of footage was shot. The film is now forgotten, but the music is superb. Many will know "Theme De Yoyo"--a glorious R&B romp with off-the-wall vocals from Fontella Bass, she of "Rescue Me" but also wife of AEC trumpeter Lester Bowie--from its inclusion on the The Universal Sounds of America
compilation some five years ago. That track, however, is untypical of the ebullient, riotously inventive mix of abstract soundscapes, anthemic statements and idiosyncratic solos that make up the rest of this set. "Theme Armour Universal" shows a strong Joujouka influence, while a more formal side to the Ensemble is revealed in two variations on a Monteverdi theme. Elsewhere, walls of percussion--all AEC members were drummers as well as hornmen--give way to steely sax or trumpet solos that scorch a passage before them. This set might be 30 years old, but age has not lessened its impact. --Simon Adams
In 1970, without even seeing the film, the Art Ensemble agreed to produce the soundtrack to new wave director,Moshe Misrahi's latest film. While there's a great tradition of American jazz put into service for French cinema, going back to Miles' wonderful soundtrack to Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'échafaud, this amazing record is a much more radical beast befitting its times.
In 1969 the band had quit the States following the departure of drummer Philip Wilson (for Paul Butterfield's Blues Band) and were now living in Paris where they actually gained the 'Of Chicago' tail to their name. Following a brief drummerless period (though every member was more than proficient in the percussion department) they finally began working with Don Moye.
Long sought after and whispered about by jazzheads in awed tones, the world can now finally catch up with what many regard as one of the best jazz albums of all time. The reason it works so well is the variety contained herein. The two saxes of Joseph Jarman and Roscoe Mitchell combined with Lester Bowie's trumpet can veer from swing to classical with ease. In fact they apply this stylistic dexterity on two adaptations of a Monteverdi theme.
What's more even when the band blow free (as on the appropriately named Theme Libre) it's always with a cheeky sense of humour. Voguishly the track Theme Amour Universal saw the whole band moaning and wailing a la the Morroccan Master Musicians of Joujouka, adding credence to their motto of making music that was ''Ancient To the Future''.
And topping it all off is the inclusion of Lester Bowie's wife at the time, Fontella Bass. The opening track, Theme For Yoyo, has long been regarded as a jazz funk masterpiece. It's cascading brass entry ushering a blistering vocal cameo that's oddly erotic and surreal at the same time. ''Your fanny's just like two sperm whales floating down the Seine...Your love is like an oil well, dig it on the Champs Elysee'' wails Bass.
While the Ensemble were to remain in France and record great albums for Freedom and BYG labels, this album still stands as a pinnacle of its era. Or any other for that matter... --Chris Jones
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