The Art Ensemble of Chicago has been at the forefront of creative improvised music since 1969, and has long served as the flagship ensemble of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the august Chicago-based organization that also fostered the careers of members such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Anthony Braxton, Henry Threadgill, and Wadada Leo Smith, among many others. The greatness of the Art Ensemble has always been the shared commitment of its original members – Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Joseph Jarman, Malachi Favors, and Famoudou Don Moye – to the total realm of African diasporic music: what they have long-termed “Great Black Music—Ancient to the Future.” Also important are the group’s disparate musical and artistic personalities, comprised of jazz, advanced compositional techniques, theatrical performance, poetry, Pan-African percussion, all tied together with improvisational flair and the exploration of pure sound.
Comprised of two discs: a meticulous studio session and the capture of a rousing live set at Edgefest in Ann Arbor, MI, We are on the Edge: A 50th Anniversary Celebration is exactly that, a commemoration of a half-century of magical music making. Not content to rest on their laurels, surviving members Mitchell and Moye have recruited a diverse group of fifteen highly-individual talents who bring their own approaches to the Art Ensemble aesthetic. Together, these virtuoso musicians honor the group’s history and help advance the legacy of Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and the recently departed Joseph Jarman. With clear intent towards representation, the group’s engagement of musicians such as Nicole Mitchell, Tomeka Reid, Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa), Christina Wheeler, Silvia Bolognesi and Jean Cook– women who are without peer as improvisers and performers – help bring a new perspective to the music. The sheer breadth of the ensemble’s collective expression is staggering, and it serves as a clarion declaration that Mitchell and Moye are intent on carrying forth the powerful ethos of the Art Ensemble forcefully into its sixth decade. As Moor Mother declares: “We are on the edge!”