Monday, March 18, 2013

Ernest Dawkins, Afro Straight

Ernest Dawkins has been a pivotal figure on the Chicago jazz scene for many decades now, as central member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, as leader of his New Horizons Ensemble.

He steps out today with a new ensemble devoted to straight-ahead Afro-Latin tinged jazz. There's Ernest on alto and tenor plus trumpet (Corey Wilkes), piano (Willerm Delisfort), acoustic bass (Junius Paul) and drums (Isaiah Spencer). Latin percussion in the form of conga and/or bongos liven up most of the tracks.

There are two Dawkins originals and a slew of classic jazz numbers, from "Mr. PC" and "Footprints" to "God Bless the Child" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise."

Ernest's arrangements are solid hard-bopping entities that recall the classic Blue Note-ish vein, with plenty of room for solos.

Everybody cooks and the soloing is strong. Dawkins reminds us here that he can run with whatever pack he sees fit. He is as convincing as leader-arranger-soloist in this ensemble as he has been with the more Afro-Avant excursions for which he is known.

Most importantly, it is alive and vibrant. This is not a retreat or a mannerist rehash. It is a full-out explorations of roots, with all the fire and commitment of a living art form, as brought to you by an important artist of the music today. Dig in.

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