Title: The Art Ensemble of Chicago and Associated Ensembles
Format: 21-CD box set
Release date: November 30, 2018
The Art Ensemble of Chicago has a storied place in the history of jazz and avant-garde music. An offshoot of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the AEC formed in 1969 and is now on the cusp its 50th anniversary. In celebration of that milestone, ECM Records has assembled this limited edition 21-CD box set showcasing all of the albums they released with these “standard bearers of Great Black Music.”
The set begins with AEC’s first release on the ECM label, the 1969 album Nice Guys, featuring Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors Moghostut, Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, and Famoudou Don Moye. This same quintet appears on the subsequent releases Full Force, the highly acclaimed live album Urban Bushmen, and the quintet’s final ECM release of the era, The Third Decade. In 2001 AEC returned to ECM to record Return to Lester—a tribute to founding member Lester Bowie, who died in 1999. The other discs in the set are projects from various AEC members, including Leo Smith, Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Evan Parker, and Jack DeJohnette, among others. The icing on the cake is the accompanying 300-page book with extensive liner notes and illustrations, including previously unpublished photographs and images of archival documents. This is a fabulous set commemorating the artistry and fierce individuality of The Art Ensemble of Chicago.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss