Ernest Dawkins: Afro Straight (2012)
Afro Straight is Saturday music. That day following a work week where you take off your suit and tie or uniform, and put on that favorite sweatshirt and pair of jeans to kick back and relax in the familiar confines of your home. The familiar is your solace, and saxophonist Ernest Dawkins delivering time-honored standards is the equivalent of comfort food for the ears.
Dawkins, a member of Chicago's AACM (Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians), is a veteran of both outside and inside music-making. His previous disc with his Chicago Trio, Velvet Songs To Baba Fred Anderson (RogueArt, 2011), was a nod to both the tradition and freedom in jazz and his New Horizons Ensemble and Chicago 12 bands, like his work with percussionist Kahil El Zabar and The Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, playing music that can soar completely free or remain within an orthodox tradition.
Somewhat like saxophonist John Coltrane's Ballads (Impulse!, 1962), here Dawkins sets out to create a straight-ahead sound. Employing a younger generation of Playerstrumpeter Corey Wilkes (Art Ensemble of Chicago), New Horizons bassist Junius Paul and drummer Isaiah Spencer, plus pianist Willerm Delisfortthe saxophonist covers the music of Coltrane, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and singer Billie Holiday. The record is dedicated to all these artists, a well as saxophonist Von Freeman, whose influence is most felt here.
Dawkins packs the disc with Afro-Latin rhythms and African percussion, employing additional congas. His original, "Afro Straight," is a percussion-only track. But mostly, this is Dawkins reworking the familiar to great effect. "Mr. PC" accelerates from the start, tapping into the heart of bebop, as does Dizzy Gillespie's "Woody 'N You," with Wilkes snapping the rubber band with a quicksilver muted trumpet sound. He also plays mute on Shorter's "Footprints," entangling his horn with Dawkins. The band covers a sentimental "God Bless The Child," with Ben Patterson sitting in on Hammond B3, while Dawkins ignites on "Softly As In A Morning Sunrise," tearing through the changes over its sympathetic percussive backing. He even sings "Old Man Blues" over a walking bass, telling the familiar yarn of unrequited love.
The comfort music of Saturday morning blossoms into the possibilities of a night on the town.
Track Listing: Mr. PC; United; Afro Straight; Central Park West; Woody ‘N You; Softly As A Morning Sunrise; God Bless the Child; Footprints; Old Man Blues; Juju.
Personnel: Ernest Dawkins: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion; Corey Wilkes; trumpet; Willerm Delisfort: piano; Junius Paul: bass; Isaiah Spencer: drums; Ruben Alvarez: congas, bongos, chimes, shaker; Greg Carmouche: congas; Greg Penn: congas; Ben Paterson: Hammond B3 organ.