New Horizons Ensemble | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

New Horizons Ensemble 

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NEW HORIZONS ENSEMBLE

The last time I wrote about New Horizons in these pages, a little over a year ago, they were plotting a live recording experiment at the Velvet Lounge; this week, leader Ernest Dawkins will release the fruits of that labor, Mother's Blue Velvet Shoes, on his own Dawk label. New Horizons' first in-performance album since their debut disc six years ago, it adds a couple wrinkles to the band's carefully cultivated sound. The compositions open up to accommodate the loose electricity of a gig, and the soloists respond with more leisurely--but no less intense--explorations. That's especially important for this group: the setting might easily have challenged its noteworthy ability to avoid the cliches of excess. But as proven beyond a doubt on the title track--a spur-of-the-moment improvisation that coalesces into a quite effective ballad--New Horizons need no studio to lock down a great take. Since the moment Dawkins formed the band in 1979, he's aimed for an idiom-bridging aesthetic, combining elements of avant-garde jazz a la the AACM--of which he later served as president--and what he calls "the older concepts of traditional swing." In the 90s, AACM musicians have shrugged off the burden of novelty; they no longer need to demonstrate the efficacy of free improvisation, which allows them to better explore the whole range of improvisation suggested by the organization's motto, "Ancient to the Future." Dawkins's breezy compositions likewise employ a boppish vocabulary but also more recent ideas on harmony and form, a combination the rhythm section of drummer Vincent Davis, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, and guitarist Jeff Parker (who is currently in Europe with the post-rock band Tortoise) seems to enjoy deeply. Led by Dawkins's gravity-defying alto darts, the band occasionally charges onto turf dominated by the Art Ensemble: extra percussion, bells and whistles, mock-harsh horn work from trombonist Steve Berry, and blunt comedy from the delightfully unpredictable trumpeter Ameen Muhammad. But New Horizons have undeniably established their own beachhead, commanding a musical vista that justifies the band's name. The musicians return to the scene of the crime to celebrate the new CD. Friday, 9:30 and 11:30 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. nEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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