Wednesday, December 27, 2000

Freedom then & now

Posted By on Wed, Dec 27, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Jazz of the ’60s and ’70s unlocked some wonderfully fertile spaces within the music, some of which are revisited and harvested by Ernest Dawkins and his fellow deep diggers on this new disc from the Windy City. The byword of those decades was “freedom”: free jazz, free improvisation and, in the struggles of African-Americans and South Africans alike, freedom now. To say that jazz politics has never given up that quest is to know exactly where the musicians on Jo’burg Jump are coming from and pointing to (Jo’burg being an abbreviation of Johannesburg).

“Stranger,” the opening cut, finds Dawkins’ big tenor sax flying above careening bass (Yosef Ben Israel) and drums (Avreeayl Ra). Then Steve Berry’s smoky, brash trombone wavers and wails over African percussion, police whistles and loping bass — and Ameen Muhammad on trumpet growls and greets the world with an irrepressible reveille. On the title cut, Dawkins’ alto sax leads an unruly demonstration of public blues and caring. His sound comes out of the funky-metal-singing tradition of John Tchicai and Gary Bartz, the notes sitting airy and serpentine in the pocket, then pushing and pulling the tension till it snaps. If you can get through these tracks without saying “wow,” you’re either not paying attention or not breathing.

“The Gist of It” slows things down to waves of cymbals and columns of layered horns before a head-nodding walking bass tells everybody how to act, and a mysterious unison figure from the horns punctuates the beginning of each solo like a paragraph break. Muhammad stretches out, using all the blue space around him to get modal on your ass. Dawkins screams in collective homage to Ben Webster, Archie Shepp and Live at the Apollo. And Berry plunges into an up-tempo shift, sliding around with a nod to the ancestors’ sexy ways.

Guitarist Jeff Parker joins the quintet for “Shorter Suite,” laying down Jim Hall-ish chords and marking off a relaxed island in this sea of steaming and boiling. But with three more intensifyin’ cuts to come (“Goldinger,” “Turtle Island Dance” and “Transcension”), this is a good place to leave y’all in anticipation of the other vistas of freedom that Dawkins and his friends have in mind.

George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at


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