How strange that there are two studio albums by the Art Ensemble of Chicago issued in 2003, both without Lester Bowie, on two different labels. The ECM album is a tribute to the late Bowie and is made up of the surviving members of the working Art Ensemble - Roscoe Mitchell, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye - and the album at hand is a reunion of sorts with composer and multi-instrumentalist Joseph Jarman, who retired in the early '90s. While the former album is on the group's American label, ECM, and is a formal tribute to Bowie, it is the latter that more formally encapsulates the Art Ensemble's classic vision of free improvisation, non-Western folk traditions, and jazz as one in the same brew. And yes, Bowie's hard-swinging humorous presence is missed, and to the band's credit, they've made no attempt to fill the void on either recording. The Meeting is not, however, a reacquaintance with Jarman. His composition, "Hail We Now Sing Joy," a hard bopping, scatting tribute to Buddha Shakyamuni, opens the album and creates a space where his trad jazz roots and Bowie's ongoing sense of history are melded by the band, which negotiates the territory with great verve and taste. "It's the Sign of the Times," written by Favors, revisits with deeper wisdom, expansive texture, and more pronounced dynamics the territory the Art Ensemble explored on its first album, People in Sorrow, in 1967. Each member solos for an extended period before the band comes together in a final movement that encapsulates all the varying themes. Almost 19 minutes in length, it's a portrait of the Art Ensemble as individuals coming together to form an inseparable bond and commitment to the creation of sound as music; the pace is slow and purposeful and the expressionism created by the unit is out of this world. "Tech Ritter and the Megabytes" is one of those beautiful Mitchell pieces that is a space-age nursery rhyme (а la "Snurdy McGurdy and Her Dancin' Shoes"). Only four and a half minutes in length, it offers striated interwoven melodies along the shimmering harmonic edge of the blues. Three of the remaining four selections are group improvisations broken only by Mitchell's title composition of fat R&B and swing-styled horn lines. Of these, it is the dreamy percussion and woodwind-oriented "Wind and Drum" that is the most moving as it walks the line of spatial relationships to silence, lyric, and non-determinate unfolding. The sense of play that the AEC does so well is what drives "The Train to lo," the album's closer. Bells, whistles, basses played as drums, and sopranino saxophones create lines of communication along attenuated rhythms and faltering interludes that nonetheless create more space for dialogue as they wander in and out of the mix. This is a glorious reunion album, one that delights as it provokes.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)