Monday, April 24, 2006

Message To Our Folks

"Great Black Music" Message To Our Folks
BYG Actuel 28

Recorded 8/12/1969

1. Old-Time Religion
2. Dexterity
3. Rock Out
4. A Brain for the Seine


LESTER BOWIE; trumpet, flugelhorn, bass drum, horns
ROSCOE MITCHELL; soprano sax, alto sax, bass sax, clarinet, flute, percussion
JOSEPH JARMAN; soprano sax, alto sax, clarinet, oboe, flute, vibes, percussion, guitar
MALACHI FAVORS; bass, fender bass, banjo, percussion

Amen! Looking for a trip through the entire history of black music? Well look no further. There was a lot of this sort of thing around in the 1960s and 70s courtesy of free jazzers like Archie Shepp and the Art Ensemble. I think some of these artists were seen as marginal by the jazz mainstream, but albums like this show that great free jazz was as in thrall to tradition as any bopper. Look at the name of the album, for a start - "Message to our Folks" implies an attempt to express gratitude for musical forebears. What's more, the album was subtitled "great black music".

And there certainly is a variety of music here. From the gospel stylings of opener "Old-Time Religion", through a reasonably straight take on Charlie Parker's "Dexterity" (complete with a multitude of percussion in true Art Ensemble style) the album can't be pinned down. "Rock Out" does just that with it's heavy rhythmic feel, while "A Brain for the Seine" is a typical Paris-scene wig-out, with a real ambient, soundtrack-like feel (and a great bluesy harmonica). The whole is executed with the sense of fun-but-deadly-serious that characterises many of the Art Ensembles' recordings of this period.

Like many Art Ensemble records this sounds like nothing else in free jazz, never mind music in general - in these days of manufactured pop we should be grateful that such music exists at all. Love it or hate it you can't help but have an opinion, but come to it with an open mind and you'll find plenty to enjoy.

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