Ernest Dawkins’ Chicago 12

Misconceptions of a Delusion, Shades of a Charade
Dawk Music Release #04

Designed as a celebration of the 35th Anniversary of the Chicago Seven trial, this nearly 80-minute slice of agitprop avant-garde is as much forward looking as backwards glancing.

Recorded live in Paris in early 2004, the narration voiced by “disco poet” Khari B. recalls the repressed radical anti-war and anti-racist sentiments of the late 1960s, which strike a responsive chord in an audience familiar with similar situations involving the Iraq War. At the same time, composer Ernest Dawkins, who directs but doesn’t play in the 12-piece band, uses this expanded version of his usual quintet to show off some of Chicago’s emerging improvising talents. Considering the AACM, with which all the musicians here are affiliated, was also established in the mid-1960s, the link seems appropriate and apt.

With 10 selections ranging from moderated New Thing lines and Free Jazz miasma to straight Swing, a quasi-Dixieland shuffle and backbeat R&B, the standout soloist is trumpeter Corey Wilkes. Now working with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, the brassman showcases clarion-calling open-horn work, plunger exhibitions and mouthpiece kisses with equal facility. Other memorable sounds come from the fat buttery textures of Norman Palm III’s trombone; from alto saxophonist Greg Ward, whose tone can be half-Hodges and half-Dolphy; from sonorous baritone sax explorer Aaron Getsug, who makes sophisticated use of altissimo alarums; and from pianist Justin Dillard, whose cross-handed dynamics relate to Chicago’s blues, gospel and boogie-woogie history, though he comps as sympathetically as any mainstreamer..

Driven by twin percussion from Dawkins’ regular bandmate Isaiah Spencer plus the inventiveness of peripatetic Hamid Drake, the CD is probably Dawkins’ most realized project. Only at the very end is it weakened by some show-biz flourishes from the singer during the encores the crowd demands after completion of the suite.

— Ken Waxman