Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins is new to me, as are the members of the AACM (Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians) in general. But, it really doesn't matter in that the music is accessible, having a constant, strong rhythmic component, despite the free-ish romps played over that rhythm. The AACM philosophy of eclectic creativity and playing the new while remembering the old is definitely on display in this release.
Mean Ameen is Ameen Muhammad, the trumpeter in Dawkins' group New Horizons Ensemble starting back in 1979, and this release is a testimonial to him.
The album breaks down into three sections lasting about twenty minutes, each consisting of two tracks. The first two tracks have an incredible energy, with Dawkins and trumpeter Maurice Brown just letting go, playing solos that maintain a balance between total freedom and boundaries. Just when you might think that Dawkins has reached the emotional Everest, Brown comes back and matches if not tops him. But the point is not mere pyrotechnics. The music is utterly engrossing, terrific (in the "terrifying" sense) to me primarily because these emotional fireballs happen within the context of outstanding drumming by Isaiah Spencer and bass playing by Darius Savage. I don't mean to demean Steve Berry's contributions (he wrote tracks two and three) as a player. It is just that the trombone does not make as deep an impression as the other two instruments.
After the sweat stops trickling from your brow, "Jeff To The Left" (referring to a guitarist that had been in the band) is almost a ballad, but filtered through the band's personality. Then comes "The Messenger," an homage to Art Blakey and the deep groove which he always projected. Intensely satisfying as that sound is to me, I found that the band's extensions of it added much enjoymenthearing the expected being stretched was wonderful.
The last section contains "Haiti," which "was written to commemorate the island's 200th year of independence," but is also an homage to the people's plight and their determination to overcome it. The last track returns to the emotional power of the opening tracks. In the notes, Dawkins says, "all music in the Western Hemisphere is intrinsically related. The only difference is the division of the beat. That African influences are at the heart of so much of the culture of the Americas is the key."
The rhythms of jazz are the first things that attracted me to it. Its sophistication and infinite variety combined with its basic body feel just turns me on. The music presented here is a wonderful example of that which is new, that which has much raw emotionality combining with the established deep roots of jazz to produce something different, yet accessible. This is powerful music that can easily wash you away, and for that I am grateful.
Personnel: Ernest Dawkins - alto and tenor sax, Maurice Brown - trumpet, Steve Berry - trombone, Darius Savage - bass, Isaiah Spencer - drums