Sunday, February 26, 2006

Les Stances A Sophie

Les Stances A Sophie
Universal Sounds - US 11 CD

Recorded 22nd July 1970

1. Theme De Yoyo
2. Theme De Celine
3. Variations sur un Theme de Monteverdi (i)
4. Variations sur un Theme de Monteverdi (ii)
5. Proverbes (i)
6. Theme Amour Universal
7. Theme Libre
8. Proverbes (ii)


JOSEPH JARMAN; saxophones
DON MOYE; drums

Best known for their unique take on free jazz, the Art Ensemble of Chicago arose from the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Like conceptual art, free jazz always seems to work best if supported by a strong concept, and the AACM certainly provided this to the Art Ensemble. It's not to surprising to hear that the group found themselves in Boulogne, France in July 1970 - many American free-jazz musicians were attracted to France by the lure of European intellectualism and the 1969 Festival Actuel. What is surprising is that they ended up recording the score for a low budget French domestic drama.

The album became legendary after it's release - the film was hardly an international success and it's soundtrack was never destined to be a top seller, so few copies were in circulation. Thankfully London-based Universal Sounds rereleased the album in the 1990s after copies began trading for crazy amounts of money. The reason for so much interest in an otherwise obscure record? The lead track - 'Theme de Yoyo'; tight, funky and totally unlike anything else in the Art Ensemble's extensive discography. The theme is catchy, insistent and broken up with tasteful bursts of freedom that innovate without terrifying. This would all be only mildly entertaining were it not for the outstanding vocal of Fontella Bass. Bass had scored some soul hits in the late 1960s and was later married to Lester Bowie, hence her appearance here. She's totally up to the job, belting out the vitriol of the lyric with real passion. The music matches her delivery, the band showing themselves to be extremely tight - free-jazzers are often derided as being unable to play, but there's no doubt this is a group that could turn themselves to anything.

After that astonishing beginning, the album changes direction somewhat, the rest of the tracks being in a quieter and much freer style. It's unmistakably film music, but with a definite free jazz-edge that unsettles and satisfies close listening. It's still possible to pick this up on CD, so take my advice and do so, before this cult classic becomes as unobtainable as it once was.

1 comment:

Peter MacDonald said...

I have this on a CD titled "Americans Swinging in Paris - The Pathe Sessions" and it also includes "People in Sorrow". Great album!