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Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble: The Prairie Prophet

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Opening with the brightly hued, somewhat sweet melody of “Hymn for a Hip King,” the latest by Ernest Dawkins’ longstanding New Horizons Ensemble pays apt tribute to the late, great saxophonist Fred Anderson-not coincidentally, the proprietor of the venue where the band’s last release, The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge, was recorded.

Like Anderson’s renowned Chicago club, the New Horizons Ensemble embraces a wide swath of jazz styles, where the bop- and gospel-tinged material can share a stage with the patchwork abstraction of “Sketches,” ceding way to the Middle Eastern evocations of trombonist Steve Berry’s “Mesopotamia.” The latter’s sinuous serenity is displaced by a more modern update on the state of the same region, the Mingus-flavored political tirade “Baghdad Boogie.” Closing the album, the track begins with a Dizzy-style call-and-response recitation of the title before Dawkins intones an impassioned vocal decrying the war in Iraq, complete with caustic paraphrases of “Over There” and “The Old Grey Mare.”

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