Trumpet player Corey Wilkes was just 24 when saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell recruited him to join the Art Ensemble Of Chicago in 2003, four years after Lester Bowie's passing. Since then he has demonstrated remarkable technical and creative ability, serving as a sideman in James Carter's Quintet, Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Rob Mazurek's Exploding Star Orchestra and Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble. He also leads his own straight-ahead Quintet, the neo-soul outfit Black Slang and the forward thinking sextet Abstrakt Pulse, featured on Cries From Tha Ghetto, Wilkes' sophomore efforta far more adventurous affair than his funky debut, Drop It (Delmark, 2008).
Combining the progressive hard bop of 1960s Blue Note sessions with the exploratory advancements of the AACM, Wilkes' Abstract Pulse features the estimable talents of relative newcomers Kevin Nabors (tenor saxophone), Scott Hesse (guitar), Junius Paul (bass), Isaiah Spencer (drums) and tap dancer Jumaane Taylor. Nabors brawny cadences and Hesse's fleet-fingered fretwork provide Wilkes with a vivacious front line. Paul and Spencer are a resourceful rhythm section, occasionally accompanied by Taylor's quicksilver hoofing. A generous leader, Wilkes provides liberal solo space for his sidemen as well as sharing writing duties. Other than an ethereal cover of Lester Bowie's "Villa Tiamo," all the tunes are originals, most co-written by the band.
Chameleonic in his versatility, it's easy to see why Mitchell picked Wilkes to fill Bowie's spot. On the Jazz Messengers-inspired swing of "First Mind" and "Levitation" he recalls the soulfulness of Lee Morgan, the dexterity of Freddie Hubbard and the harmonic sophistication of Woody Shaw, without resorting to imitation. "Villa Tiamo," reveals his debt to Bowie with expansive pitch bends and half-valve tonal smears, an ability showcased to even greater effect on the haunting dissonances of "SICK JJ" and the labyrinthine "Visionary of an Abstrakt." Conversely, his tender muted refrains on the lush Milesean ballad "Rain" show great restraint.
A diverse session, "First Mind" and Levitation" offer a modernistic spin on classic hard bop conventions, while numbered "Abstrakt" interludes spotlight each member of the group in vociferous freeplay. "SICK JJ" travels further outa menacing fever dream awash with coruscating electric guitar feedback, rumbling electric bass tones and a thicket of caterwauling horns. "Visionary of an Abstrakt" augments spry free bop with a string of searching solos including episodes of unearthly kaleidoscopic bass harmonics and spectral bell-tones. Straddling the line between tradition and the avant-garde, "Chasin' LeRoy" and the lyrical title track encompass the best of both worlds.
Expanding beyond the stylistic limitations of his debut album, Cries From Tha Ghetto presents a richer side of Wilkes' artistry, one that lives up to his potential.
Personnel: Corey Wilkes: trumpet and flugelhorn; Kevin Nabors: tenor saxophone; Scott Hesse: guitar; Junius Paul: bass; Isaiah Spencer: drums; Jumaane Taylor: tap dance.