Utilizing over 100 instruments and a musical and spiritual vocabulary extending from Zen Buddhism to South Side hard bop to African Griot traditions, the six-member Art Ensemble of Chicago (AEC) wove together a narrative of sounds, rhythms, chants, and energy for a near-capacity audience at Mandel Hall last Friday night.
AEC is the most famous band to emerge from Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) in the mid-1960s. The music department sponsored the concert, as well as a symposium preceding it at the Franke Institute for the Humanities. The symposium, entitled "Great Black Music: South Side Aesthetics," was free and open to the public. It drew together a number of prominent jazz biographers, professors, and musicians who have participated in the history of South Side jazz music to discuss the intricate stories and philosophies behind the music.
At a panel discussion accompanying the concert, four generations of AACM musicians, including Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman of the AEC, discussed the spiritual and musical philosophies that motivate them. The panel, moderated by Professor Richard Wang of the music department, included Mitchell and Jarman of the AEC, conductor Mwata Bowden of the Jazz X-Tet at the University of Chicago, and musician Nicole Mitchell, who is the current vice president of the AACM.
Roscoe Mitchell suggested that a focus on expansion, attaining a higher level of experience, and tapping into the "spiritual side of music" are the otherworldly sort of motivations that inspire what are among the most creative musicians today. "I'm a firm believer that we expand ourselves and we move on," he said.
According to Professor Travis Jackson of the music department, Friday's concert and panel discussionas well as new jazz music coursesare a part of a new commitment by the music department to the study of jazz and American music. Thomas Christensen, the chairman of the music department, said that Friday night's concert is only the first of a series that will bring jazz to the University of Chicago over the next year, "to reach over and reconnect with jazz on the South Side of Chicago." He could not say who future artists in the series might be.