[31] Art Ensemble of Chicago – Urban Bushmen

8 Nov

This is a genuinely odd bird.

There are moments of shining brilliance and of self-indulgent performance art in equal measure here.  While there are many tracks I would recommend in a heartbeat, I just can’t bring myself to recommend the recording as a whole.

Urban Bushmen

Urban Bushmen











The opening sounds more like African World music than Jazz, when they’re not giving off a distinctly Classical vibe. This is clearly intentional – bringing African beats to the city – but perhaps foreshadows the fact that these guys are a little further out there than I’m looking for in my jazz musicians?

What follows is by far the hottest glockenspiel playing I’ve ever heard – fast and frantic, flying across the scale with whistles and calls in the background. And oh my goodness, the drum solos are astounding – the most dynamic and arresting that I’ve heard in any genre to date in the 1,000.

My 4-year-old daughter just can’t stop dancing while it plays.

After setting the tribal table, the album retreats to a more traditional jazz baseline, with familiar western instrumentation and snippets of tonal melody. But it is all smashed and crashed together into a mess of sound that once again demands attention, won’t allow itself to fade into the background.

Hectic and kinetic, with calls and wails squeaking through, harking back to the jungle sounds of the opening “Promenade”, the strange sports whistles and bike horns – again meant to evoke the city – distract and detract more than they enhance.

We appear to have found the outer limits of my tolerance for Free Jazz.

And this even before we get to “Ancestral Meditation”, which seems to me more a performance art piece rather than actual performance – 7 minutes of extremely quiet discord, almost off the low end of hunan hearing. It is Andy Kaufman seeing what the audience will put up with.

I am unimpressed.

And it colors the rest of my experience. While I still recognize that there is much musicianship and artistry on display, the Ensemble has lost my trust, has pushed me away as if to say I’m not cool enough.

It is an important moment for me, calibrating my ear for Jazz, reassuring me that I’m not just going to rubberstamp the entire genre over the next 969 recordings.

But I can’t wait to hear what comes next.

Owned before blogging? No. (2 of 31. 6%)
Heard before blogging? No. (4 of 31. 13%)
Recommend? No. (25 of 31. 81%)

Next week: Fred Astaire – Steppin’ Out


One Response to “[31] Art Ensemble of Chicago – Urban Bushmen”


  1. [34] Albert Ayler Trio – Spiritual Unity | . . . To Hear Before I Blog - November 29, 2013

    […] the experimentation of Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Urban Bushmen which I found hit or miss, in Spiritual Unity everything is laid out before your ears, no sleight […]

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