Chi-Town is well represented by saxophonist Ernest Dawkins and his New Horizons Ensemble, Deep Blue Organ Trio and saxophonist Fred Anderson on these DVD’s. Each was recorded in 2005 and is accompanied by CD’s on Delmark Records. In mentioning artistic vision and aim, the visual intent of these recordings is to showcase the physical prowess, agility and keen musical awareness that possessed these artists for brief moments on stage. The camera is unobtrusive but committed to capturing the intimacy of these performances. The aural qualities of all three are stunningly clear and balanced. Kudos goes to Bob Koester and Steve Wagner who produced and engineered these projects. Each DVD gives viewers audio options (stereo, Dolby surround, DTS surround) and Delmark’s product recommendations.
The two DVD’s from the original location of The Velvet Lounge - Fred Anderson’s Timeless - Live at The Velvet Lounge (DVD 1568) and Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble’s The Messenger - Live at The Original Velvet Lounge (DVD 1570) - finds these two groups enraptured by their music. The shock to those who frequented the old Lounge is that the place is well lit in a warm, bright glow of hanging lighting, reflecting the mood and spirit of everyone in attendance. Viewers may find themselves, as they do at a live performance, closing their eyes and being buoyed by what’s coming forth from the stage. From note one, the New Horizons Ensemble grab and tear at the inner lining of "Mean Ameen", dedicated to Dawkin’s early collaborator trumpeter Ameen Muhammad. Throughout, it’s a raw and riveting outing for Dawkins, trumpeter Maurice Brown, trombonist Steve Berry, bassist Darius Savage and drummer Isaiah Spencer. Dawkins is like a clove or square knot, easily tightened and loosened to handle the weight. One will understand the comparison when comparing his focused stance and command during "Toucouleur" and his homey dialogue, singing and swagger during "Goin’ Downtown Blues".
Again, the sound quality is excellent in The Lounge. Take a listen to drummer Hamid Drake’s frame drum and vocal work in "By Many Names" from the Timeless DVD. The fact that very little is said between the musicians doesn’t negate the continuous communication that is happening. Bassist Harrison Bankhead is an eagle-eyed guide for Anderson’s long, connected solo lines. In his usual hunched-over position, Anderson strikes a reverent pose to the music that raised him and the listeners who’ve supported The Lounge since he took ownership in 1981. He’s now overseen it through its recent relocation from South Indiana Ave. to Cermak Rd. and continues to welcome many a patron who’ve decided to take a harder walk on the South Side of Chicago and experience the freeness and openness that The Lounge and artists extend. The treat in this video is the relaxed interview (17:35) with Anderson by Wagner. Anderson does the talking about the evolution of The Lounge and his personal and musical life. Nostalgic moments are jolted into the mind as the camera pans the room of historic photos and memorabilia. Wagner asks Anderson if he has any message to his fans. Anderson responds: "We’re gonna keep this music goin’, y’know.... keep it goin’ until.... I go out."
Deep Blue Organ Trio has had a weekly gig at The Green Mill since 2003. These gentlemen bring on the blues in sixty-two minutes of class and just enough flash on Goin’ To Town - Live At The Green Mill (DVD 1569). The opening title tune invites the viewer to join the crowd for the usual Tuesday night respite. Within five minutes, organist Chris Foreman needs someone to pat his brow dry. He gets no assistance from drummer Greg Rockingham and guitarist Bobby Broom, who’ve joined him in summoning the blues spirit. Broom’s crisp sound is reminiscent of guitarists George Benson’s playing and Wes Montgomery’s nod to contemporary flavoring in his solos. But Broom is all Broom with his sharp attacks and gentle down strokes. The still camera sitting with each musician, particularly Foreman, is very much appreciated. His feet and hands breeze on by the foot pedals and keys, accounting for the flow of his playing. Rockingham does his job by steadily moving his men along.
The six tunes all connect from the familiarity amongst the players and their love of this American art form. And you’ll hear more about it in their interview included in this DVD. A writer can only get so close to explaining soul, spirit, groove, sweat and swing and then start to sound trite. Either see Deep Blue Organ Trio at The Green Mill or buy the DVD. You’ll catch the spirit!