Fanfare for the Warriors by the Art Ensemble of Chicago

June 25th, 2012 Comments Off

We knew this album was going to be good because it has been giving us so much trouble.  We bought it on an educated whim having always like the use of the word Art in the name of the group.  We knew too that these were some crazy avant garde free jazz dudes that specialized in cacophony;  and, we have always held a lazy interest in Afrikan mythology because we suspect that is where real Soul ultimately comes from.  Understanding this style of music has admittedly been a challenge for us.  So, we tried again-and this time with much success.

Fanfare for the Warriors was recorded in Chicago in September 1973.  It consists of seven songs that we will discuss briefly now.

The first sound on the record is the human voice saying the title of the lead track “Illistrum”.  The Ensemble then immediately lunches into a free form of bells, whistles, comic horns beeping and honking, sometimes whining for almost two minutes until a beat slowly emerges providing a vehicle for saxophonist Joseph Jarman’s recitation of the myth poem that shares a name with the song.  Very quickly: this song features a bass saxophone!

“Barnyard Scuffle Shuffle” holds off on its powerful swing for a melancholy piano introduction that moves proudly through its sadness.  The melody is beautiful and pure until it is utterly assaulted by a hard thirty seconds of jazz noise until it all drops at once and the band is swinging its way through a lively blues shuffle.  We suspect this is a Chicago Shuffle, dont know the difference yet.  The bass figure sounds like a tuba and sits high in the mix until the horn section cooks the swing until its done.  Great song.

After such a nicely resolved tune the band blasts out a staccato horn and drum section echoing the fastest “call and response” you ever heard in”Nonaah”.  The piano then shelters us from the firestorm with an introspective yet manic interlude.  There are some very beautiful notes in here played by guest pianist Muhal Richard Abrams.  The piano here is the only rhythmic anchor as the drums roll this way and that.

We found the title track to be the most challenging.  It features overblown, almost tortured horns, and the feel is quite chaotic-the horns screaming at and indicting the listener.  This song is indeed a battle cry of the righteous oppressed, but lets not talk about politics here k?  The tunes makes us dizzy and finalizes our psychology with a very large and very low chord from the piano.  This one chord informs the almost eight minutes of music that preceded it.

After all of the screaming, the Art Ensemble gingerly poses the question “What’s to Say”, easily the most happy sounding tune on the record.  The song opens with piccolo, flute, and percussion that collectively usher in change.  This song sounds like spring-full of hope and renewal.  The bowed bass and low notes from the piano rumble along as the song comes to a close.  War is over if you want it.

“Tnoona” is the stand out track for us.  This strikingly original number features a sax part that is entirely the  sound of the players breath moving in and out, inhale and exhale, of the instrument.  The effect is that of traveling the vastness of space-stars and other celestial debris whirring around us on all sides.  The other horn parts (including several saxophones) do sound notes but they are heavily breathed through as well.  Stark beauty this,  the piano tinkles and twinkles away amidst a bass line that rumbles, machine-like and urban from station to station and on into the dark night.  We love this tune and feel that its the highest point in the record.  But dont skip to this track, its majesty and intrigue is dependent on what happens before…

Surprisingly, Fanfare for the Warriors ends with a typical straight ahead jazz form that incorporates a Latin bridge section and some New Orleans piano work.  We like the song and the arrangement is sophisticated but we were curious about why it was included here. Until the vocals come in.  The entire group sings in unison but with different timbres and vocal abilities.  What a save!  We can hear here that this song may have influenced the vocal styling of Andre 3000 form the contemporary hip hop group Outkast.  Go on and marinate on that for a while.

This is a great and challenging achievement.  Our persistence paid off with one of our most enriching listening experiences in a good while.

This recording was made possible by a grant for the National Endowment for the Arts.




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