Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble - The Prairie Prophet | Album review
AACM chairman salutes the late Fred Anderson with this long-running group.
Ernest Dawkins’s long-running group commemorates the deceased Fred Anderson with this album, which owes more to the late tenor sax warrior than just its title. In his club, the currently shuttered Velvet Lounge, the seeds of the disc were sown and several of the tunes workshopped. Stoking that nostalgia is the rhythm section of bassist Junius Paul and drummer Isaiah Spencer, pulled from the Velvet’s legendary Sunday jam sessions.
While Dawkins, a gifted multi-reedist and co-chairman of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, surrounds himself with pros like trombonist Steve Berry and guitarist Jeff Parker, he’s not averse to shaking things up, shepherding in young improvisers Marquis Hill and Shaun Johnson, who trade trumpet duties. Musically, the album’s range is as broad as its generational divide, from the free-bop “Sketches” to the washy, all-too-brief lullaby “Balladesque.”
The album’s strongest tunes nod to influences that, like Anderson, continue to endure. His spirit is palpable on “Shades of the Prairie Prophet,” where Dawkins flings himself into a postbop fervor, as he does in “Mal-Lester.” The latter earns yuks with that punny handle, but in fact pays respect to two late members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Malachi Favors and Lester Bowie.
The album’s final cut, “Baghdad Boogie,” might be the most powerful jazz protest song yet to address the Middle East conflict. The same urgency and passion spilling out of Dawkins’s horn echoes his politics.
Dawkins brings his NME to Andy’s Thursday 31.