Ernest Dawkins's New Horizons Ensemble With Zim Ngqawana and Louis Moholo, Mandingo Griot Society | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Ernest Dawkins's New Horizons Ensemble With Zim Ngqawana and Louis Moholo, Mandingo Griot Society 

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As part of a U.S. government cultural-exchange program, Chicago saxophonist Ernest Dawkins traveled to South Africa and Mozambique in 1997 to play with jazz musicians there. Not that you'd know it from listening to subsequent recordings by Dawkins's New Horizons Ensemble. Though the new The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (Delmark; also on DVD) captures the outfit at its bluesy, brawny best--the freedom-seeking impulses of the AACM propel a program of hard-bop originals into a churchy, funky ecstasy, and the front line of Dawkins, trumpeter Maurice Brown, and trombonist Steve Berry uncork one crackerjack solo after another, stoked by a ferocious rhythm section--it's hard to hear the influence of African jazz on the music. Dawkins, however, has continued to collaborate with African players since his trip, and for this special gig New Horizons will be joined by two major figures in South African township jazz. Arguably the country's greatest jazz percussionist, Louis Moholo fled apartheid as a member of the legendary Blue Notes in the mid-60s and landed in the UK, where he's continued to explore the intersection of traditional African music and expressionistic free jazz; Zim Ngqawana is a dazzling postapartheid saxophonist whose technical rigor turns style hopping into a virtue.

Back in the late 70s Gambian kora master Foday Musa Suso moved to Chicago and, with drummer Hamid Drake, percussionist Adam Rudolph, and electric bassist Joe Thomas, started a new strain of African folk-jazz fusion. The Mandingo Griot Society set the circular melodies and traditional lyrics of the Mande atop groove-heavy yet rhythmically varied jams. The group cut three albums before drifting apart, and though several members reconvened for a gig at the African Festival of the Arts in 1995, this is the first chance to see the original lineup in 20 years.

The New Horizons Ensemble headlines, joined by Moholo and Ngqawana; the Mandingo Griot Society plays first. 6:30 PM, Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park, 100 N. Michigan, 312-742-1168. Free. All ages.

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