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8 Bold Souls

8 Bold Souls

Composer and reedist Edward Wilkerson, Jr., has never been one to play by the rules of the music establishment. When most of his brethren from Chicago’s legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians headed to New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, he stayed, scrappily finding ways to work. While most musicians with his stature and level of experience insist on the spotlight, he’s remained a firm believer in ensemble work. And for the release of the new Last Option, the fourth album by his long-standing octet, 8 Bold Souls, he skipped the usual line-up of jazz labels and went with Thrill Jockey, the Chicago indie best known as home to style-blending art-rockers like Tortoise and the Sea and Cake.

“People are always calling me an entrepreneur, but I never had any desire to put out my own records,” says Wilkerson. Yet that’s exactly what he was forced to do. In 1986 he started Sessoms Records to release the first album by his rarely convened big band, Shadow Vignettes, and two years later he released the debut album by 8 Bold Souls. “I had a car trunk filled with records and all of these dudes would laugh at me, but I didn’t care. I had to sell my stuff.” In retrospect, it’s hard to believe labels wouldn’t give him the time of day. Employing a strikingly original sound-two reeds, trumpet, trombone, tuba, cello, bass and drums-from the get-go this group revealed its leader’s vision with clarity and power, bringing an orchestral sweep to material that, like Henry Threadgill’s writing for his equally unique Sextett, synthesized jazz’s rich history into one cogent package. Eventually the New York label Arabesque Records signed the group, releasing Sideshow in 1992 and Ant Farm in 1995, but when the label put plans for a new record on the backburner a few years ago, Wilkerson was again forced to take matters into his own hands. Reluctantly heeding the advice of Marguerite Horberg, the proprietor of the downtown club HotHouse, 8 Bold Souls’ longtime home, he met with Thrill Jockey honcho Bettina Richards. “Marguerite kept telling me about this woman who had an alternative rock label and I was like, ‘Yeah, right’,” chuckles Wilkerson. But in Richards, a rabid fan of the group, he found someone who was just as hands-on and focused as himself.

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