Corey Wilkes: Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City & Hot

Kurt Gottschalk By

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Art Ensemble of Chicago
Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City
Pi Recordings

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble
Hot 'N' Heavy: Live At The Ascension Loft

In a relatively small scene like the Chicago Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), it's hard for a young musician to take a step without inadvertently filling someone else's shoes. The young players that have come out of the scene have more often made their own way (Nicole Mitchell) or left town (Matana Roberts), sidestepping the apprenticeship model upon which the AACM is built.

That's not a fact exclusive to Chicago—the days of spending years cutting your chops amongst elders are largely gone, for a variety of reasons both economic and stylistic. So it's refreshing to see as talented a player as 28-year-old Corey Wilkes spending his time in tutelage when he no doubt could be making waves as a bandleader.

Not that he isn't making waves already. In 2003 he was named the new trumpeter in the Art Ensemble of Chicago (AECO), becoming with bassist Jaribu Shahid the first new members in the group in more than 30 years. To say he replaced the great Lester Bowie, who died in 1999, would be to put an undue burden on him and yet having also lost bassist Malachi Favors, they are now restored to their classic quintet lineup.

The two CDs on Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City are the first documentation of the new AECO. And just as it would be unfair to set Wilkes up as Bowie's stand-in, it'd be folly to compare the album to the group's best records. The recordings, made over two nights in April 2004 at NYC's Iridium, at times have the feeling of a band feeling each other out. They never quite hit the fire, the looseness nor the tautness the band once displayed. But at the same time, it holds a promise for the future. Wilkes holds his own, even if he doesn't stand out as often as the masters with whom he's sharing the stage. And Shahid sounds better here than he had in some of Mitchell's side projects, sticking with the upright for these sets. The group works through some of its classic themes, notably "Odwalla and "Erika , and some of Mitchell's more recent tunes; A spirited "Big Red Peaches doesn't quite stand up to the version on his 1999 Nine to Get Ready, but is good fun nonetheless. But they sound best, not surprisingly, on the three new group compositions. And if they've done better records, they've also done worse. Here is a worthy document of a crucial turning point in one of the most important jazz bands of the last 40 years.

Wilkes gets more of a chance to strut his stuff with another longstanding Chicago group, Kahil El'Zabar's Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. The EHE have had more of a rotating membership than the AECO, but drummer El'Zabar's simple, repetitive compositions have given a number of great horn players ample room to move. El'Zabar's groups are generally built around strong rhythms and concise themes, which means the soloists have to be on their toes or they'll slip through the cracks - there's little more than interpretation holding them together. Wilkes here is bold and snappy, quicker to claim ground in his solos and play support for his bandmates (who also include saxophonist Ernest Dawkins and guitarist Fareed Haque). The date, recorded live before a small invited audience, is also available on a nicely put together DVD. If the two years that passed between the Iridium dates and the set in El'Zabar's loft are any indication, Wilkes' apprenticeships are going quite nicely. He's clearly an artist to follow.

Tracks and Personnel

Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City

Tracks: Disc One: Song For My Sister; The Morning Mist; Song For Charles; On The Mountain; Big Red Peaches; Odwalla. Disc Two: Erika; Malachi; The J Song; Red Sand Green Water; Slow Tenor And Bass; Odwalla.

Personnel: Roscoe Mitchell: sopranino, soprano, alto and tenor saxophone, flute, piccolo flute, percussion; Joseph Jarman: sopranino, alto and tenor saxophone flute, bass flute, percussion, vocal; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Jaribu Shahid: acoustic bass, electric bass, percussion; Don Moye: drums, African drums, congas, bongo drums.

Hot 'N' Heavy: Live At The Ascension Loft

Tracks: Major To Minor; MT; Hot N' Heavy; There Is A Place; Black As Vera Cruz.

Personnel: Kahil El'Zabar: earth drum, kalimba, drums, percussion; Corey Wilkes: trumpet, flugelhorn, percussion; Ernest "Khabeer Dawkins: alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, percussion; Fareed Haque: electric guitar, acoustic guitar.

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