SINCE the late 1960s, Art Ensemble of Chicago has been tearing open the sound fabric of complacent jazz. The quintet have forged sonic waves that were revolutionary in their conception and audacious in their every note.
Now, of the original pioneers, only septuagenarian master multi-reedman Roscoe Mitchell and veteran drummer Famoudou Don Moye remain, outrageous and eternal fixtures of the music.
New instrumental voices have changed their sound. Young bassman Junius Paul and the Houston-born trumpeter Hugh Ragin play in the long-held places of Malachi Favors, Lester Bowie and Joseph Jarman.
But a new element in the band is creating an entirely fresh dynamic. Three brilliant young musicians — bassist Silvia Bolognesi, cellist Tomeka Reid and violinist Mazz Swift — have feminised the ensemble and their strings vibrate with a new jazz resistance.
At Cafe Oto, they open with Mitchell’s quivering flute and Swift’s mournful, wordless vocal as if it were a tribute to departed confreres.
Then Ragin plays a gently serene solo, full of lyrical beauty in front of Moye’s rustling brushes. Mitchell follows with breathy, long-bending soprano saxophone notes from the lungs of a life in music which had blown up storms in the Windy City five decades before.
It was then the turn of the three assertive young women on strings. Reid’s bow saws at her cello, intermittently plucking them in harmony with the fingers of Swift and Bolognesi, whose bass is grounded in unity with Paul.
The ensemble’s new timbre is another expression of how young female musicians are redynamising and reinventing the sound of jazz, transforming this erstwhile all-male ensemble into a new musical formation.
Based on the traditions and continuing musical roots of the older generation, they’re creating something innovative, vigorous and beautiful in the very heart of the future.