Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Ernest Dawkins Live The Spirit Residency Big Band, Memory in the Center, An Afro Opera

Ernest Dawkins has long been a driving force on the Chicago avant jazz scene, a reedman of talent and a composer of note. He turns to large ensemble, long form music on the recent album Memory in the Center: An Afro Opera (Dawk). It features Dawkins' Spirit Residency Big Band in its heartfelt "Homage to Nelson Mandela."

Ernest Dawkins wrote and arranged the music and conducts the rousing performance heard here. Dee Alexander handles the vocals with great style and presence. Khari B recites his poetry fittingly, recalling the courage and achievement of the leader with passion. The band is an excellent one. Twelve committed, enthusiastic and talented musicians realize the music with fire and drive. Nine horns, piano (Neil Gonzalves), bass (Junius Paul) and drums (Isaiah Spencer) make up the totality and they give great spirit to Dawkins' vivid music.

The subtitle "An Afro Opera" is telling, because this is some very African-centric music, as transposed into contemporary free-flowing jazz. Dawkins belongs among the best in the vibrancy of his Afro-centric style. The band gets the feel and makes it groove irresistibly. And thanks to Ernest's very appropriate part writing and overall arching structuring, that is saying something great.

The solos when they happen are just right, too.

In short, this is music not to miss. It is a triumph of contemporary big band kinetics and energetics and a moving tribute to one of the most important political heroes of our lifetime. Hear this!

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