Friday, January 15, 2016

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble - THE ENSEMBLE (Live at The Original Velevet Lounger) 2015

Ernest Dawkins is in his element during concert or club performances, and has a stance within the post-bop and free bop continuum that speaks of his heritage coming through the ranks in Chicago. Blues, hard swing, and sounds from the black church and Africa all merge into a unified whole that is infectious, head-nodding, and smile-inducing. Leading his New Horizons quintet, Dawkins (alternately on alto and tenor saxophone) has the roaring heart of a lion and storytelling soul of a griot in this instrumental context. Trumpeter Maurice Brown and trombonist Steve Berry are young enough to be fearless and talented enough to provide perfect front-line foils for Dawkins, while bassist Darius Savage and drummer Isaiah Spencer are also exuberant up-and-comers who add plenty of aptitude and energy to the proceedings. Live at Fred Anderson's Velvet Lounge, Dawkins and his crew present six lengthy pieces that allow not only for the meatiest of solos, but also include some tight charts that revolve around the true heritage jazz pretexts proliferated by the AACM, sharpened by current updated popping rhythms.

A wheezing harmonica and percussion intro leads to "Mean Ameen," dedicated to the mentor of Dawkins, guitarist/trumpeter Ameen Muhammad. A modal two-note bass groove sets the pace for the tart harmonic sound of the horns and hip counterpoint that makes the AACM's Great Black Music identifier great. The swinging blues shuffle title track and straight 12-bar "Goin' Downtown Blues" emphasize the Windy City's past, present, and future in soulful, purposefully off-key and vocal spoken word jive dues-paying preaching. Crisp, sharp staccato brass notes in a fast bop mode set up a fulsome Dawkins on "Toucouleur." While the perfectly titled "The Brood" presents a basic introspective mezzo-forte free float, "Lookin' for Ninny" is well formed with its groove bop, simple sleek lines, and reference to their favored "long tall and skinny" girl. Dawkins is a clearly skilled, smart, and forthright musician. His solos are full of substance, crackling with just enough sizzle and depth without pure histrionics. The band picks up on this vibe 100 percent, and plays accordingly. A valuable document of the current Chi-town scene, and very much relevant to the rest of the world, The Messenger deserves attention from the entire universe of jazz listeners.

Ernest Dawkins, alto and tenor saxophone
Maurice Brown, trumpet
Steve Berry, trombone
Darius Savage, bass
Isaiah Spencer, drums

1. Intro
2. Mean Ameen
3. The Messenger
4. Goin' Downtown Blues
5. Toucouleur
6. The Brood
7. Lookin' For Ninny

Recorded live on 14 July 2005 at The Velvet Lounge, Chicago, IL.