The Velvet Lounge in Chicago, opened by Fred Anderson in the 1980s, is well-known for the adventurous bands it presents. Time cannot encapsulate the number of bands that played there, fueling an ongoing interest in free jazz. Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins was one who found a welcoming stage; he now pays tribute to Anderson, who died in 2010.
The New Horizons Ensemble has been together for a long time, and it shows in the assured and powerful performances that are made all the more commanding by Dawkins' compositions. Given their association, it isn't surprising that the band members can anticipate each other. "Sketches" sets it up perfectly, capturing the seamless interaction between Dawkins and trumpeters Marquis Hill and Shaun Johnson. The horns' piercing cries are propelled by drummer Isaiah Spencer and his dynamic range of colors. The door opens, and in comes trombonist Steve Berry, who drinks deep from the spirit before the pulse takes on a more sedate pace when Johnson comes in to solo. Guitarist Jeff Parker's darting lines and asymmetrical patterns cast another die, with the final evocation coming from bassist Junius Paul, whose pliant plucking loosens the plinth. All of the players have their say; all of them make a vital contribution.
" Mesopotamia" is inescapably Middle Eastern, an appealing examination of the musical form by Dawkins. His temperate modulations get deep into the groove, the unhurried examination exposing each strand of his movements to advantage. Parker can fathom unknown plateaus, and here he shows how he can be a minstrel as well, as he unveils his melodic side.
Dawkins turns notations into absorbing forms and sketches as he and his band venture away from the charts. Ideas become engrossing portraits that transmit light and shape and create realms of fascination. That is the power and the glory of this band.
Hymn For A Hip King; Sketches; Balladesque; Mal-Lester; Shades Of The Prairie Prophet; Mesopotamia; Baghdad Boogie.
Ernest Dawkins: alto and tenor saxophone, percussion, vocals (2, 7); Marquis Hill: flugelhorn (1), trumpet (2, 3, 7); Shaun Johnson: trumpet (1, 2, 4); Steve Berry: trombone; Jeff Parker: guitar; Junius Paul: bass; Isaiah Spencer: drums.