The Human Arts Ensemble: Under the Sun

Total Length: 48:48

A Lover's Desire - 27.09
Hazrat,The Sufi - 21.39

The Human Arts Ensemble began as a musical/theatrical collective based in St. Louis, Missouri in 1971, led by drummer Charles Bobo Shaw and featuring musicians who had worked in AACM (The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) and Black Artist’s Group, including saxophonist Oliver Lake and trumpeter Lester Bowie. The 1973 album Under the Sun features all of them, along with promising multi-reed players like Marty Ehrlich, James Marshall, J. D. Parran, trombonist Victor Reef, bassist Butch Smith, cellist Vincent Terrell, percussionist Abdallah Yakub, vocalist Carol Marshall and tamboura player Alan Suits. The personnel continued to shift over time, with later participants including John Zorn and John Lindberg. The Human Arts Ensemble soon folded after a number of its members left St. Louis for New York City in 1977.

The first track, “A Lover’s Desire,” is labeled as a traditional Afghanistani folk melody arranged by Shaw, Ehrlich and James Marshall, though it defies easy classification. It opens with the drone of the tamboura strings, but shifts from its exotic initial setting to a spirited work that incorporates Far Eastern and Western ideas with free improvisation plus the interplay of the various brass and reed instruments, though the light sound of electric piano and funky electric bass further blurring preconceived stylistic notions. Among the standout soloists are Bowie, James Marshall (on alto sax) and J. D. Parran (on bass clarinet). James Marshall contributed “Hazrat, The Sufi,” also credited as a Shaw/Marshall/Ehrlich chart. It is bit more free-spirited, with the players improvising bird-like calls on tin, wood and snake charmer flutes, plus a mix of free brass and reeds with bluesy harmonica, with the rhythm section alternating between a strong presence and fading somewhat to the background, with the music progressing into total free improvisation after awhile. In spite of the adventurous playing, this is very accessible avant-garde jazz.

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