Ernest Dawkins' New Horizon Ensemble: Mean Ameen (2005)
Ernest Dawkins guides his New Horizons Ensemble in a program dedicated to longtime fellow traveler trumpeter Ameen Muhammed, recently passed. Both had roots with Chicago's Southside blues scene, and both belonged to the AACM, with Dawkins himself a past president. The sometime sextet performs here as a quintet, with rising star Maurice Brown handling the trumpet voicings. Brown made his impressive recording debut last year on Fred Anderson's Back at the Velvet Lounge, and with the New Horizon's Ensemble he proves his promise.
The title track powers some hard-blowing alto by Dawkins, with an insistent riff stated by Brown and Steve Berry on trombone. Opening with a cool uptown line, the arrangement roles and tumbles then sticks for Dawkins' advanced extended excursion through the alto. By the time Brown gets a chance, he blasts fiery waves over Savage and Spencer's mind-bending time games. On "3-D," Savage spins an infectious web to suspend the bright horn chart. Berry enters bold and leaves thoughtful, while Dawkins seems reserved over the crazy clock rhythm section. Later, his throaty tenor testifies through sultry sensuality and literal shouts leading to a shrieking coda. Brown uncovers fresh musical insights, often challenging the exotic time signature.
Back on alto, Dawkins leads the thoughtful ballad "Jeff to the Left," before handing off to Berry for a long imaginative stroll. "The Messenger" swaggers in and Brown runs with it, rolling through measure after measure of straight-ahead big-city horn. Dawkins follows slippery and fluent, then Berry shows up with a plunger mute emphasizing the retro feel. Birdsong samples and hand percussion set the mood for "Haiti." With the bells, conch shell, trumpet, and spontaneous song, there's an atmospheric Art Ensemble influence. With its changing times and moods, "Buster and the Search For the Human Genome," finally decides on hard swing. Dawkins plays scorching rough-edged alto, ending up outside. Berry takes off through Savage's whip-snap bass lines and occasional little instruments. Brown wears the tune down; Savage pulls it back in duet with Spencer.
Delmark's soundclean, live, and roughdelivers the broad tonal options employed by the ensemble. With Mean Ameen, Dawkins and company have created a 21st century hard-bop maelstrom.
Track Listing: Mean Ameen; 3-D; Jeff to the Left; the Messenger; Haiti; Buster and the Search for the Human Genome
Personnel: Ernest Khabeer Dawkins, alto and tenor saxophone; Maurice Brown, trumpet; Steve Berry, trombone; Darius Savage, bass; Isaiah Spencer, drums.