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ERNEST DAWKINS’ NEW HORIZONS ENSEMBLE

The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge

DELMARK DE 570 [66:24]

 

 



Intro [0:48]
Mean Ameeen [10:49[
The Messenger [13:09]
Goin’ Downtown Blues [11:03]
Toucouleur [11:21]
The Brood [8:18]
Lookin’ for Ninny [8:25]
Maurice Brown (trumpet)
Steve Berry (trombone)
Ernest Dawkins (alto & tenor saxophone)
Darius Savage (bass)
Isaiah Spencer (drums)
The Velvet Lounge, Chicago, 14 July 2005

Ernest ‘Khabeer’ Dawkins started out playing bass and conga drums in his early teens; later, hearing his father’s recordings of Lester Young and the alto playing of the legendary Chicagoan Guido Sinclair, he fell in love with the idea of playing the saxophone. He studied with members of Chicago’s famous Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (he later went on to become its chairman). He founded his New Horizons Ensemble in 1978.

Recorded here at Fred Anderson’s famous Chicago club, the Ensemble is heard playing a characteristic set of what it seems odd to feel obliged to label avant-garde jazz. In truth, this is music that draws on almost the whole of the black music tradition, as befits the work of a leader who has worked with, on the one hand, AACM Big Band, Khalil El’ Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and Anthony Braxton and, on the other, with Aretha Franklin, Ramsey Lewis, Jack McDuff and the Dells. This is music soaked in the blues (especially on ‘Goin’ Downtown Blues’), as befits work from the South Side of Chicago, and equally open to the influences of bop and post-bop (Maurice Brown’s trumpet work reminds one by turns of Freddie Hubbard and Lester Bowie). The theme of ‘The Messenger’ has the rhythmic and melodic contours of Art Blakey in the 1960s, though the solos incorporate later, and more specifically, Chicagoan idioms and inflections.
Dawkins himself is a player whose work extends, rather than overthrows or rebels against, tradition. His alto playing is steeped in the Parker tradition, but with admixtures of Ornette Coleman and much that is his own, producing a passionate, hard-swinging voice, his melodic invention unafraid of sharp corners, his tone at times fiercely biting. Steve Berry is an inventive and eclectic soloist, in whose work one hears echoes of many of the great jazz trombonists; he can play with a lyricism not always heard from modern trombonists and he can also play some hard-driving blues. Maurice Brown is rapidly establishing a considerable reputation as a hard-bop trumpeter; it is fascinating to hear him in this slightly looser context and he is consistently impressive, both musically and technically, playing with a huge range of pitch and dynamics.

Fine as the front-line soloists are, they would, I’m sure, be happy to agree that the bedrock of this album is provided by the work of Darius Savage and Isaiah Spencer, a brilliant team, hard hitting but sensitive; the two of them give something of a masterclass in contemporary rhythm playing.

My only minor reservations are about some rather ponderous lyrics on ‘Goin’ Downtown Blues’. Otherwise, this is a joyous, passionate demonstration of quite what ‘tradition’ means, of how fully ‘present’ music looks both backwards to its past and forwards to its possible future.

Glyn Pursglove
 
 
 



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