Harold Budd Is At The Bar

Art Ensemble of Chicago at Big Ears Festival in Knoxville Tennessee
Art Ensemble of Chicago at Big Ears Festival in Knoxville Tennessee 2019

People were walking toward us this morning with pillows under their arms. We were headed to The Standard where a twelve hour drone was just finishing up. It took a while for our eyes to adjust to the darkness. Bodies were scattered about, some cross legged with their eyes closed, others completely sprawled out or asleep. A different musician or set of musicians took over the drone every half hour. We listened with our full body for fifteen minutes or so and headed over to the Knoxville Art Museum to check out Tim Story’s Roedelius Cells, fragments from old Cluster recordings played through sixteen speakers, eight times stereo. We stopped in a panel discussion with Nate Wooley. He talked about listening, the importance of silence and playing with but not mimicking external sounds. 

A century after the WW1 armistice, Richard Thompson performed KIA with a string ensemble. His songs are based on letters, diaries and verbatim extracts from people directly involved. Peggi counted 10 violins, 4 violas, 4 cellos and two basses.

Ever the optimist, Roscoe Mitchell, in the center of a panel surrounded by three current members of the Art Ensemble, said, “It seems like the sixties all over again.” He talked about composing in the moment and how he was trying to do the past members, those who have passed on, proud. “You either have a ticket to ride or you don’t go.” We we’re thrilled to see that Tomeka Reid, the cellist we liked so much in Artifacts, is now a member of the Art Ensemble.

Bill Frisell’s Harmony with Petra Haden singing as he plays guitar along with cellist, Hank Roberts and Luke Bergman on baritone guitar sounded right at home in Tennessee. The old timeyness in a lot of Frisell’s playing in hi many settings is fully fleshed out here.

At the Spanish/Moorish Tennessee Theater the amazing Art Ensemble of Chicago, celebrating fifty years of great black music, closed out the festival like a rocket ship leaving earth with the very best elements of our culture. With only two of the formible five left they had added twelve members and a conductor. Their set and encore were so musically rich our ears indeed got bigger.

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