Here’s some rare film of the Art Ensemble of Chicago—Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, Joseph Jarman, Roscoe Mitchell and Famoudou Don Moye—live in Chateauvillon, France in 1970. This was the most intense and sustained creative period for the group: Between 1969 and 1970, they recorded an incredible 13 albums—A Jackson in Your House, The Spiritual, Tutankhamun, People in Sorrow, Message to Our Folks, Reese and the Smooth Ones, Eda Wobu, Certain Blacks, Go Home, Chi-Congo, Les Stances à Sophie, Live in Paris, and The Art Ensemble of Chicago with Fontella Bass—while still finding time to guest on albums by saxophonist Archie Shepp (Yasmina, A Black Woman, Poem for Malcolm and Blasé), bassist/composer Alan Silva (Seasons) and vocalist Brigitte Fontaine (Comme à la Radio). Their hot streak continued with 1971’s Phase One, 1972’s Bap-Tizum and Live at Mandel Hall, 1973’s Fanfare for the Warriors, and 1974’s Kabalaba. That album marked the end of their glory years, though; it took them four years to make another—1978’s Nice Guys, on ECM—and while they continued to record all the way up to the early 2000s, Bowie died in 1999 and Favors in 2004, and the group hasn’t released anything since 2006. I never saw them in their prime; I didn’t catch them until after both Bowie and Favors were gone, replaced by Corey Wilkes and Jaribu Shahid, respectively. But those 1969-74 albums are almost uniformly mind-blowing (Eda Wobu and Live at Mandel Hall, each composed of a single epic track, are skippable.)
Anyway, here’s a half-hour performance by the Art Ensemble of Chicago in their indisputable prime. Enjoy!