Source: Village Voice.
The elders are always with us, and the Art Ensemble of Chicago came to life by making this fact central to their practice. In 1967, before the group had settled on a name, trumpeter Lester Bowie suggested the phrase “Great Black Music” as a motto for an expansive vision that took in almost every form, and as an explainer that might keep the word “jazz” from their door. (It didn’t.) Bassist Malachi Favors added “Ancient to the Future” to the phrase, and it was finished. In 1969, after being called the Roscoe Mitchell Sextet and, simply, the Art Ensemble, the band settled on the name they’ve kept since. The core members of the group emerged from the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, established in 1965 on the south side of Chicago. In 2015, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago mounted an exhibit for the fiftieth anniversary of the AACM, titled “The Freedom Principle: Experiments in Art and Music, 1965 to Now.”
The show gave Mitchell a chance to make the motto concrete. Among the archival material on display in the gallery space was the full-stage percussion setup used by the Art Ensemble. Bells for the South Side captures four of Mitchell’s trios playing in various combinations at the MCA, some of them using the Ensemble’s gear.