Outstanding free jazz session recorded in 1973 in Paris by Chicago outfit BAG. Since the formation of Black Artists’ Group in 1968, the home of this multidisciplinary arts collective had been St Louis, Missouri, the city where the Bowie brothers had grown up. It was there that Lester Bowie had started to investigate the expanding horizons of jazz before moving, in 1966, to Chicago where he joined the recently established Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM).
His close friend Oliver Lake visited Bowie, attended AACM concerts and meetings and was inspired not only by their artistic vision and integrity but also by their efficient organisation. In Chicago musicians were making things happen for themselves, taking control of their own destinies and giving shape to their lives as creative artists. In Paris, Aries 1973 reveals BAG’s musical affinities with the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Both groups preserved an independently minded approach to the notion of free jazz and a carefully filtered awareness of pan-African musical practices, while their creative interest in space, mobile structure, chance occurrences and simultaneity also suggests parallels with the concerns of leading experimental composers working at that time.
These performances in Paris of Shaw’s “Something to Play On” and Lake’s “Re-Cre-A-Tion,” plus two collective compositions/improvisations, display the dedication to structural fluency and sensitivity to coloration that accompanied BAG’s unorthodox group dynamics and their unconventional instrumental combinations. In this case the musicians embrace congas, log drums, marimbas, woodblocks, cowbells and gongs. This is not a showcase for solos, but a shape-shifting and multi-centred statement of togetherness, quest and discovery. Removed from BAG’s original multidisciplinary context the music still exudes an exhilarating spirit of collaborative exploration and shared excitement. - Julian Cowley