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November 2006

Ernest Dawkins
The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge
Delmark Records

“I always wanted to do an album dedicated to the blues, ’cuz this is a blues town.” With that, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins cues Darius Savage’s slow, walking bass line and talk-sings a testimony on hometown Chicago and his music. Part oratory, part gutbucket excursion, “Goin’ Downtown Blues” serves as the centerpiece of an enthralling live set by this charismatic AACM member. Available both as a CD and DVD, the performance will slay listeners, with or without the visuals.

The New Horizons Ensemble’s frontline—Dawkins (alto, tenor saxophones), Maurice Brown (trumpet), Steve Berry (trombone)—evokes the three-horn edition of Jazz Messengers, albeit a pianoless version. Nowhere is this clearer than the marching groove of “The Messenger.” Yet, when they start to solo, the members of the group are clearly in the mood to invoke their AACM lessons rather than replicate the past. Dawkins plays some extremely gravelly alto on “Mean Ameen” and free-flowing lines on “The Brood.” Brown caps his spot in “Toucouleur” by putting his mouth on the bell of his horn and sucking otherwordly sounds out of it. Even more remarkable, when the horns proceed through the audience and out onto South Indiana Street on “Lookin’ for Ninny,” the quintet holds it together and the recording captures every note.

Originally published in November 2006
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