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July/August 2003

Ernest Dawkins New Horizons Ensemble
Cape Town Shuffle
Delmark Records

Like the Art Ensemble of Chicago and various other offshoots of the AACM, Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble pursues the calling of a contemporary pan-African aesthetic. Dawkins is a saxophone-wielding AACM alumnus; New Horizons, his primary outlet since 1979, embodies a synthesis of diaspora-wide traditions within the framework of modern jazz.

Cape Town Shuffle finds ample inspiration in the melting pot of South Africa, where Dawkins performs and teaches twice a year. The album opens on a rollicking, Mingus-like "Toucouleur," featuring appealingly blustery solos by Dawkins, trombonist Steve Berry and trumpeter Ameen Muhammad. A follow-up track, "Third Line and the Cape Town Shuffle," weaves together the scattered strands of New Orleans parade grooves, Cape Town carnival music, Gospel shouting and straight-up swing. At the midpoint of the tune, Muhammad literally sermonizes, in a call-and-response with the horns: "The Holy Ghost says / That freedom ain't free."

The album's second half maintains this urgency but focuses more explicitly on the Northern Hemisphere, with nods to the 12-tone row in jazz ("Dolphy and the Monk Dance") and to the expression of modern griot traditions ("Jazz to Hip Hop"). The latter features an enthusiastic but amateurish spoken-word poem by the AACM's Kahari B., making a weaker case for a jazz and hip-hop cohesion than it could. (It's telling that the song's great release occurs when the ensemble shifts into foot-tapping swing.)

As the album's subtitle indicates, this is a live recording, and Dawkins' crew clearly feeds on the spirit of the moment. The music of New Horizons spills over with vibrant energies, conveying the life-affirming exuberance of cultural expression.

Originally published in July/August 2003
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