47th Street Ghost
Dreamtime Records 003

Proving once again the old adage that everything old is new again, Chicago saxophonist David Boykin and company have produced a perfect, progressive hard bop LP. Thing is, the session was recorded not in 1958 at 33 1/3, but last year on CD. While the results are impressive, it suggests that younger members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) aren’t as involved in experimentation as their elders, who include icons like Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell and George Lewis, have been.

Of course what many people forget is that there has always been a strong bop foundation to the AACM. In fact, it was the most spectacularly searching musicians who left the city in the 1960s and 1970s, leaving their more mainstream associates behind. This means that most contemporary AACM bands in Chicago are more attuned to bop, blues, funk and the like than the advances of the pioneering experimenters.

The sextet represented on this CD has packed 10 tunes into a CD that’s only a shade over 35 minutes. So you wish a few of the tracks were a bit longer to allow more room to stretch out. Furthermore, this disc is firmly in the late 1950s tradition that saw hard bop lightened with extra instruments and sophisticated arrangements provided by the likes of Gigi Gyrce or Benny Golson. Come to think of it, more carefully thought out arrangements would have made this disc better as well.

Let’s deal with the positive first. Boykin, who wrote all the tunes and divides his time among tenor saxophone, clarinet and bass clarinet, is someone sure of his place in the jazz firmament. Using what must be a very thick reed on the sax, he produces a raw, rugged, masculine tone that only occasionally introduces freak notes. He’s definitely influenced by Sonny Rollins —who spent time woodshedding in Chicago. The way he sometimes slips and slides off the notes is also reminiscent of Johnny Griffin, another Chicago-born tenor icon, who did his share of those prog bop sessions. Only on the astrologically titled “Virgo” does Boykin utilize the horn’s bottom, straying into what could be a baritone’s range for his solo.

On clarinet, his role model seems to be John Coltrane’s soprano saxophone, keeping to the upper register and only rarely dipping into the chalumeau range; he leaves the lower tones for his Eric Dolphy-influenced bass clarinet. However on many tunes he produces a unique harmonic blend by mixing the rasp of either woodwind with the piping timbres of Nicole Mitchell’s flute or piccolo.

Acquiescing to the leader, Mitchell plays a secondary role, only stepping front and centre on “Niki’s Bounce” where her pure, almost legitimate flute tone is enlivened with some in unison throat singing and Boykin improvising a countermelody on tenor. Amazing for those who know him only as an electronica/synthesizer expert, pianist Jim Baker sticks exclusively to acoustic piano here. Advancing a mixture of blusey comping and modal asides, his work is consistent with the sort of backing he provides every week at the legendary Velvet Lounge’s jam sessions. Both bassist Josh Abrams, who is also part of the Town and Country band, and drummer Isaiah Spencer cleave to the beat, but due to time limitations rarely get to show off for more than a few bars break. Vocalist Marquecia Jordan appears to be present only on the slice-of-1960s ethereal salutes, “Sunrise” and “Sunset”. But even there her light-toned oohs and ahs are lost within those less-than-two-minute vamps.

“Stalking The Cat”, the final composition may be the only one which distinguishes the tunes here from traditional hard bop sessions. A half-time stroll, which accelerates and decelerates in tempo as it moves along, it features amiable mid-range sax and a vocalized flute line, succeeded by triple timed piano chords and a slinky bass solo. Perhaps the band was stalking a South Side cool cat; at least it wasn’t afraid to vary the tempo.

Overall, this disc by Boykin et. al, which outside Chicago is likely only available by e- mailing dreamtme3@aol.com, shows great promise. But if the combo members truly want to distinguish themselves they’ll have to distance themselves a little more from their role models. Producing a longer session with enough room to stretch out will be one way to do so.

— Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1. 47th Street Ghost 2. Circus 3. Jiffy Pop 4. Antimatter 5. Sunrise 6. Jacuzzi 7. Niki’s Bounce 8. Virgo 9. Sunset 10. Stalking The Cat

Personnel: Nicole Mitchell (flute, piccolo); David Boykin (tenor saxophone, clarinet, bass clarinet); Jim Baker (piano); Josh Abrams (bass); Isaiah Spencer (drums); Marquecia Jordan (vocals)