Last Option
Thrill Jockey Records Thrill 071

When people say that a certain musician could write for the movies, they usually mean he'd be good at creating background music. 8 Bold Souls' leader Edward Wilkerson could write for film all right, but for a completely different reason. His arrangements and compositions, which make up this disc, are so cinematic that there are times you can almost "see" the movie unrolling as the music plays.

"Brown Town" for instance, with its double duos of Wilkerson's soulful tenor accompanied by a boogaloo drum beat and Jackson's tailgate trombone fronting a brass bass tuba, could be a stroll down an urban street, moving from a 1940s swing dance club to a 1960s R&B hangout.

Elsewhere "The Last Option" with its semi-"legit" and semi-Klezmer clarinets passages shows off his classical side, while "Pachinko" named for a Japanese game of chance imported to that country from Chicago, has a loose circus rhythm driven on JBs-style funk horns.

Having the other Bold Souls as his crew allows Wilkerson's filmic vision to reach fruition, of course. A Chicago institution, the band has stayed together for the past 15 years with only a couple of personnel changes. The eight now have the sort of joined history that produces group music where the solos arise generically from the composition, rather than relying on the sort of selfishness, which exhibits itself with macho frontmen literally leading subservient backing musicians. Here the bass part or the drum section is as important as what comes from the reeds or brass.

Size helps as well. With two brass, two reeds, two strings and — counting tuba — two rhythm instruments, Wilkerson has enough colors to produce a full orchestral sound. Especially prominent is Bowden — who forsakes his usual baritone saxophone most of the time to reach for those high notes on clarinet — and Bankhead, whose arco execution on tunes like "The Art of Tea" is so quick and clean that you figure it's the smaller, more flexible cello playing rather than the bass.

Recorded on a label best known for post-rock, electronica and garage punk, LAST OPTION is an experiment for the Bold Souls. Yet throughout the music hasn't been altered in any way to meet the expectations of non-jazz people. In fact, with a session as strong as this one, the disc should be seen as a new opportunity rather than a last option

—Ken Waxman

Track listing: 1. Odyssey 2. Third One Smiles 3. Last Option 4. The Art of Tea 5. Pachinko 6. Gang of Four 7. Brown Town

Personnel: Robert Griffin (trumpet, flugelhorn, piccolo trumpet); Isaiah Jackson (trombone, percussion); Gerald Powell (tuba); Mwata Bowden (clarinet, baritone saxophone); Ed Wilkerson Jr. (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, alto clarinet, clarinet); Naomi Millender (cello); Harrison Bankhead (bass); Dushun Mosley (drums, percussion)