|| Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble
South Side Street Songs
Cat. No.: SHCD132
Ernest Dawkins alto sax, tenor sax, flute
Steve Berry trombone
Ameen Muhammad trumpet
Jeffery Parker electric guitar
Yosef Ben Israel bass
Avreeayl Ra drums
1. Whence to Whither (Ernest Dawkins) 14:01
2. Maghostut (Ernest Dawkins) 8:50
3. Goldinger (Ernest Dawkins) 6:15
4. Half-Step for Granny (Ernest Dawkins) 3:47
5. Ashes and Dust (Ernest Dawkins) 5:46
6. El Hajj (Ernest Dawkins) 4:43
7. Just is Me (Ernest Dawkins) 13:06
8. Maghostut Two (Ernest Dawkins) 8:59
Total time: 65:47
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"Given the strength of South Side Street Songs, it is almost frightening
to think that this band probably still has a lot of unrealized potential. Certainly
the broad stylistic terrain mapped out here would reward further exploration.
In the meantime, we have this noteworthy milestone, which ranks with the best
of Silkheart's stellar jazz catalog."
Glenn Good, Cadence, June 1994
HOT JAZZ - bold and brash, music with energy, music that stimulates the nerves and spirit; the term "hot jazz" is irresistibly linked to Chicago jazz. Great Chicago bands such as King Oliver's Creole Jazz Band, Louis Ammstrong's Hot Five and Seven, Jelly Roll Morton's original Red Hot Peppers are famous examples (remember, those bands never played in New Orleans). More than that, the players in those bands complemented, supported, and inspired one another. Both the heat and the true band spirit were evident in the finest jazz that emerged from Chicago a few generations later by the early Anthony Braxton and Muhal Richard Abrams groups, Air, and the Art Ensemble.
And now Chicago presents Ernest Dawkins and the New Horizons Ensemble. Like their
illustrious predecessors, they play hot band music, and they, too, are among the
finest jazz bands of their time, anywhere. It's exciting music to hear - New Horizons'
music is enthusiastic, energetic, and perhaps inevitably, Chicago being the kind
of city it is, rich with the substance of the blues.
This disc's title is perfect: "I want to call it SOUTH SIDE STREET SONGS," says
Ernest Dawkins. the delightfully startling alto saxophonist, composer, and leader
of New Horizons. "The compositions came out of the environment that I grew up
in as a little boy, hearing the watermelon man, the fire engines, the riots, the
first man on the moon, the scenes on the streets - the sweet and sour kinds of
sounds, the melodious and atonal things that you see and hear, and some things
are bizarre, too - all of that."
There was music around him, too. Anthony Braxton and Chicago bop tenorman Sonny
Seals lived nearby, and Emest heard them practising their saxophones. Since he
grew up in the '50s and '60s, his first loves included the likes of Smoky Robinson
and the Temptations. On the other hand, his father played Charlie Parker records
for him and took him to that grandest of Chicago theaters, the original Regal,
to hear Count Basie and Duke Ellington (many years later, Ernest was told that
trumpeter Willie Cook was a distant relative). In boyhood he had a chum, Ameen
Muhammad, and, "When I was eight I used to play bass and Ameen used to play guitar.
After that I started playing drums and he started playing clarinet." About 1973,
when Ernest settled on the saxophone, "My father said, 'I'm not buying you anything
else, you're going to have to get it yourself'. My first saxophone was an old
World War II silver Conn that my friend's father sold to me for $15 it's still
a good horn."
By then, jazz was clearly Ernest's music While practising in Washington Park
one day he met bassoonist James Johnson, who encouraged him to attend the AACM
School. There, on his first day, Ernest's teachers "tried to have me play 'Hot
House', or some other hard Bird tune I was just learning. I was, 'Okay, you got
me this time, but I'll be back."' He enrolled at the Vandercook College of Music,
"got my thing together, and after 6 or 7 months I came back." His AACM teachers
included Joseph Jarman, Chico Freeman, and Douglas Ewart, "It was original, and
I was young and inquisitive I went everywhere to see everything
"I came through a tradition - there are certain things you're supposed to do,
certain people to study with. You're supposed to go to Von Freeman's jam sessions
on Monday nights, then you're supposed to play in the AACM Big Band, and I played
in Jimmy Ellis's workshop band. Then we had our own jam sessions, that's the only
way to learn how to play, hands-on "
By 1979 he'd met Ben Israel and the expansive drummer Reggie Nicholson, and with
old friend Muhammad he formed New Horizons; in another year or so Steve Berry
joined. From the beginning New Horizons' fire was manifest. They embraced free
jazz, modes, and hard bop, for, says Emest, "That's one thing Muhal taught me:
Play it all, don't limit yourself. Some guys learn a period and style of jazz
and they become that period and style. I was told, you learn it, then even if
always you try to throw it away, it's always there. People can't pigeonhole us,
because we carry the elements of traditional jazz but we also have the elements
of the other side of music "
New Horizons grew together. Its foundation was the very best possible kind: the
terrific swinging drive of Ben Israel's bass, over which it would surely be impossible
to play without fire and swing. The ecstatic abstractions of Muhammad's trumpet
grew in time to embrace more lyrical lines, while the lyricism of Berry grew in
ingenuity and expressiveness and Dawkins' alto sax art gained potent structural
definition. Throughout the '80s they played plenty of concerts, then added club
dates, festival dates, and toured in Europe and America. Late in the decade, when
Nicholson moved to New York, Avreeayl Ra was moving back to Chicago after extensive
tours with Sun Ra's Arkestra; the master of a world of rhythmic intrigue, he inflamed
New Horizons with his excitement. In 1992, then, Dawkins met Jeff Parker: "When
I heard him, I said, 'That's the other ingredient, a little spice in this jambalaya.'
All the ingredients unto themselves are meals, and when you mix it up, you make
Ah, those ingredients. The growly solo that Muhammad molds out of a rude phrase
in the first "Maghostut", the heat and mocking humor of his "Whence to Whither"
solo, the marvelous interplay of trumpet and drums in "El Hajj". If Muhammad virtually
defines 'hot jazz', Berry at least seems more intimate yet even his somber solo
at the beginning of "Whence to Whither" is superbly varied in phrasing, and there
are his very much alive solos in both "Maghostut"s. In contrast to his mates'
rugged extroversion Jeff Parker plays guitar with a sweet sound - note especially
his lovely tones and melodies in "Whence to Whither". Dawkins' phrase structures
are recurringly call-answer in shape and his solo forms theme-derived, cherish
Ameen Muhammad his bite and staccato lyricism "Goldinger", his brief passage of
lovely, singing alto that concludes "Half-Step for Granny", his long, dramatically
staged "Just Is Me" solo, eventually propelled by Ra into the extreme alto ranges,
and the richness of sound and near-bop phrasing of his (for a change) tenor sax
in "Maghostut". Ra, whose ever-active interplay inspires so much of this music,
makes "Ashes and Dust" his showpiece, while Ben Israel, whose swing and harmonic
instincts are crucial to this disc's success, offers a fine solo in "Just Is Me".
All are lyric improvisers, oriented to swinging. It's the compositions that unite
them into a band, and Ernest's writing has grown in color, detail, and authority
over the years. Originally, he says, he composed brief tunes; now, "I try to do
more extended pieces. The writing is a little more angular now. Most of my harmonies
are melodic, but some weren't as atonal as they are now. I think a composition
can stretch the group's imaginations and capabilities out into another approach,
to another level. I want to go a little further. When I get to the level of Braxtoniancy,
then I know I'm there."
This program is a typically varied selection of inside and outside grooves. "'Ashes
and Dust' is one of our old standards - we've been playing it since the group
started. Though its inspiration was a meditation on 'the end of life as we know
it on this earth - the bodies turn to ashes and dust, but the spirit lives on',
the performance proves to be a musical forest fire, Ra pouring gasoline on the
flames. And New Horizons has been playing "Just Is Me", with its stunning opening
phrase, since the mid- 1980s. The rest of these works were composed in 1992. "Half
Step for Granny" is dedicated to Ernest's late grandmother, Linnie Benjamin. "El
Hajj" is El Hajj Malik El Shabazz - Malcolm X - and the tempo is medium-up, the
harmonic setting earthy. The fast "Goldinger", not to be confused with gilded
fingers, was composed for a black artists' group concert at the Museum of Science
Two works are, I think, especially formidable settings for New Horizons' mastery.
"Whence to Whither" is an abridged version of a long work that Ernest composed
for a Meet The Composer grant. New Horizons first played it at Southend Musicworks,
which with Hot House, is Chicago's leading new music showcase. It is a succession
of moods and tempos, recurringly changing, and arriving at some complex interplay
of truly sustained improvising. The other is "Maghostut" (the 'g' is silent),
dedicated to Malachi Favors Maghostut, the master bassist who replaced Ben Israel
on New Horizons' first European tour in 1986; it's also dedicated to the Art Ensemble
of Chicago. Not only do the two versions here capture the Art Ensemble's subversive
humor, with bursts of chatters, growls, collective wailing, and perverse tempos
- the theme is one of those get-next-to-you lines that sounds as if it was more
discovered than composed-something inherent in jazz's chromosomes, like Monk's
"Blue Monk", Morton's "Dead Man Blues", Fred Anderson's "Saxoon", Henry Threadgill's
"Bermuda Blues". It's no accident that New Horizons offers an encore version of
"Maghostut" on this disc, for the way they play it, with their contrasting sounds
and lyricism, their wit and fire, certainly does call for more. Hot jazz, indeed!,
from one of the most gifted and stimulating jazz bands of the 1990s.
Author of Ornette Coleman: A Harmolodic Life