A Jackson in Your House - Message to Our Folks
A Jackson in Your House was recorded while the Art Ensemble was on its initial sojourn in Paris with just a quartet - Roscoe Mitchell, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Joseph Jarman - because drummer Phillip Wilson had left to play with Muhal Richard Abrams and Foumoudou Don Moye wasn't in the house yet. So this, along with its companion LP, A Message to Our Folks, showcases the Art Ensemble at its bravest and most vulnerable. For those familiar with the earlier recordings on Nessa, such as People in Sorrow, A Jackson in Your House is shockingly formalist, though far from conventional in any way. Here the band was interested in being a gigging and recording "art ensemble" more than being a free jazz group. Hence, all sorts of theatrical elements are involved in the performances. The set opens with the title track, which sounds like a rent party with music playing both on the juke and in the living room. Given that this was 1969, a number of jazz critics misunderstood the New Orleans references in the music and took this to mean that the band had either sold out its experimental heritage (which is absurd), or they were poking fun at the founding fathers of the music known as jazz (which is absurd, too). If anything, by utilizing on the opening statement - and indeed throughout the album - the historical frames of jazz, the Art Ensemble revealed its deep empathy with Armstrong, W.C. Handy, King Oliver, Jelly Roll Morton, etc. The freewheeling influence of Ornette Coleman is felt on "Get in Line," with its strident pacing, stop-on-a-dime changes, and stretched melodic and harmonic sensibilities - check out Favors trying to keep the saxophones "lined up" in the middle of the tune since he's the only rhythm player. There are some things that don't translate well to a recording session, however, and the largely spoken theater of "Old Time Religion" is one of them. Near the end of the disc, on "Rock Out," the band proves it can funk and rock with the best and worst of them by using an electric guitar and a host of percussion instruments, taking a riff apart endlessly until it becomes just some funky detritus in the mix. A Jackson in Your House is not the finest or most revelatory recording by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, but it is one of their more entertaining and carefree outings and, as expected, the French ate it up.
- Thom Jurek (All Music Guide)