January 1, 2001
Although many jazzers pay lip service to African influences, very few have actually experienced the music of Africa on that continent. Saxophonist and bandleader Ernest Dawkins is one of that small number, having jammed with musicians both in South Africa and Mozambique.
Significantly though, this CD is so convincing because of more than Dawkins' on-site anthropology — the discipline, not the Charlie Parker tune. JO'BURG JUMP is a joy because the New Horizons Ensemble know one another so well, having been together in one form or another since 1978. Plus, as members in good standing of Chicago's Association for the Creative Musicians, the musicians can produce riffs that draw as much from that city's polyglot South Side as South Africa and create Jump Jazz from Joliet, Ill. as easily as Jump Ups from Johannesburg, South Transvaal.
Similarly, the warm horn voicings and infectious bounce of tunes like "Stranger" and "Goldinger" are the type of sounds, that despite this CD title, could only be produced by North American musos nurtured in jazz's traditions. Then again, if you're looking for a commonplace example of improv music's familiar "prophets without honor in their own country" reality, note that this is the band's first release for a domestic label despite a long recording career.
Making the most of the opportunity, each member gets his time in the spotlight. Dawkins aide-de-camp, trumpeter Ameen Muhammad — who is usually as jolly as the prototypical cool jazzer is dour — offers up his rooted Energy-Music explosions all over the disc. And he doesn't stint on shouting vocal encouragement either. Not only can he manipulate a mute like a modern day Bubber Miley, but also proves on "Turtle Island Dance" that he's a melodic conch shell master as well.
Steve Berry shows off his coruscating tailgate trombone timbre on numbers like "The Gist of It", while Yosef Ben Israel and Avreeayl Ra successfully fuse into the sort of dependable, unshowy rhythm machine which is as indigenous to Chicago as the El.
Former Ensemble member Jeff Parker even takes time off from his lucrative involvement with postrockers Isotope 217 and Tortoise to integrate his broad Kenny Burell meets Sonny Greenwich style guitar into "Shorter Suite". Propelled by such AACM "little instruments" as shakers and slide whistles, it takes a life of its own, rather than as a Blue Note era funk flashback.
Still it's the title tune that most succinctly sums up the band's strengths. Unlike roots rock neo-colonists who "adopted" African rhythms in the 1990s, this bouncy, hand clapping refrain only references the Townships. But, in truth, its slinky cacophony wouldn't be possible without the scene at Chi-town spots such as The Velvet Lounge at Indiana and 23rd, no matter what it's named.
Ignore labels and pick up on real Chicago jazz circa 2001 with this disc.
— Ken Waxman
Track Listing: 1. Stranger 2. Jo'burg Jump 3. The Gist of It 4. Shorter Suite* 5. Goldinger 6. Turtle Island Dance 7. Transcension 8. July Song
Personnel: Ameen Muhammad (trumpet, conch shell, percussion); Steve Berry (trombone, percussion); Ernest Khabeer Dawkins (tenor and alto saxophones, percussion); Jeff Parker* (guitar); Yosef Ben Israel (bass); Avreeayl Ra (drums, percussion)