All Apologies

Art Ensemble of Chicago
People in Sorrow
Pathe-Marconi : 1969

Joseph Jarman, saxophones, clarinets, percussion; Roscoe Mitchell, saxophones, clarinets, flute, percussion; Lester Bowie, trumpet, percussion; Malachi Favors, bass, percussion, vocals.

Dear C,

Why does it seem like we only write when there’s a need to apologize? You’ve probably noticed we’ve been a bit absent lately – from our lives and from the site. Maybe it was the extreme weather or the emotional toll of digesting the daily headlines, but this summer we were most comfortable in the shadows – disengaged, frazzled, overwhelmed. Every time we vowed to double down on our efforts to be more present, we seemed to halve them instead. So no more false promises.

To cheer ourselves up, a couple of weeks ago we split a bottle of vodka and pulled out a well-worn copy of the Art Ensemble of Chicago’s Les Stances A Sophie, a guaranteed mood lifter. But instead of the elastic and infectious funk bass line of “Theme de Yoyo,” we were greeted by the mournful moan of trumpet and saxophone. At first we blamed the vodka for this stately and plaintive sound, but eventually we realized it was the vinyl.

We had accidentally put on a different album by the Art Ensemble, also recorded during their Paris expatriation in the late 1960s, released by the same label as Sophie but recorded a year earlier. It was People in Sorrow, a two-part suite created before the group added drummer Don Moye. This music seemed to ebb and flow according to its own tidal chart, with undulating themes, chiming percussive interludes, stirring horn passages, and sudden vocal interjections. It was moody, contemplative, expansive — the opposite of what we initially sought, but we found ourselves utterly transfixed.

We listened to the album over and over. We realized that we didn’t need music to artificially lift our mood with a quick hit of euphoria, but instead we needed the tattered state of our spirits to be genuinely acknowledged. People in Sorrow gave texture and depth to these emotions, its winding routes and many shadings allowing us room to connect with the richness of our own despair. We didn’t even need a second bottle of vodka.

Of course the album was intended as an exploration of historical African American suffering – it’s a sophisticated blues invocation with elements of pageant and ritual. But we couldn’t help also hearing it as a personal lament by a young band that found itself newly exiled in a strange land. And these days, you don’t even have to leave your house to experience that.

So by way of reconnecting and making amends for our absence, here’s the second part of People in Sorrow. You may need to settle into this music, spin the track a few times and listen closely, but we promise there’s an apology hidden in there somewhere.

The boys from D:O

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