The year 2007 also marks the bicentennial (200 years) of African resistance and ancestral overcoming, which led to the passage of a British law against the "slave trade" in African flesh in the year 1807. The Afrikan Millennium & Cultural Arts Festival is a three month series of special events and concerts that includes nights of live music, tributes to jazz greats of the past and present as well as film series dealing with the African Diaspora experience. With more than 80 concerts, "The Arts Festival" as the organizers of the event are referring to it as, offers a wealth of experience in African musical contributions of every genre, with performances by both local and international artists.
Ernest ‘Khabeer’ Dawkins is a past president of the AACM, Association for the Advancement of Creative Music, a Chicago musical institution created in the early sixties, a learning centre, an improvisational playground, that has seen and is continuing to see some of the world’s greatest musical creators take an active role in shaping the musical soundscapes of today. The AACM has included some excellent musicians, names such as Muhal Richard Abrams, the first president of the organization, Lester Bowie, Anthony Braxton, Malachi Thompson, Chico Freeman, Leroy Jenkins, Malachi Favors, Roscoe Mitchell, Henry Threadgill and Kahil El’Zabar who is scheduled to perform in December 07.
Mr. Dawkins led his New Horizons Ensemble in a prayer to the east, "To clear the room of evil spirits," as he put it, a minute or two of silence, an announcement of thanks to the full house audience for coming out, an audience that included some special guests, including many local musicians, radio personalities and jazz royalty Mercedes Ellington.
Launching into the first selection "The Messenger" a mood of a distant land is created, somewhere in the great African continent, with percussion aplenty, bass played col arco, shakers and shells providing mysticism, the song begins with a funky rhythm, a very upbeat tempo, the first solo, a break out trumpet part by Marquis Hill, with high notes blending beautifully with passionate lines of brilliant tones - aglow with fire and ice. The trumpet lines are well thought out and seem to speak of intense emotion, powerful energies and forces far beyond this realm, could these prayers at the beginning of the show have conjured the spirits of such trumpet luminaries as Brownie, Lee Morgan, Fats Navarro or Malachi Thompson. Marquis Hill pays tribute to these greats with a mix of styles that blends bop and free bop with funk, blues and jazz, solid amounts of very cool jazz.
The next solo is by Ernest Dawkins, he plays off of the thoughtful lines created by Marquis Hill, communicating in a thankful, passionate and powerful manner, smooth fluid lines growing in strength, his alto saxophone glowing brighter and louder as he transforms smooth bopish lines into free form growling, howling tones of determination.
Steve Berry, an original member of The New Horizon Ensemble, takes the next break and two more after that, he is a trombonist of refined skill, a good composer as well; receiving credit for two of the tunes performed this evening. Playing trombone with power and finesse, he lays down bluesy lines, mixing in rapid runs, each break builds in intensity, increasing the passion and energy to a boiling point, by the third trombone break the room is on fire. Leaving no choice for Darius Savage but to continue with the same strength, as he provides a bass solo of hot, open notes and heavy chords that resonate and fill the room with glorious intonation. An introduction to Isaiah Spencer and his travels through the African Diaspora as he creates and blends styles of percussion, innovative, passionate, powerful, thoughtful and inspirational are some of the thoughts running through my mind as I listen with intrigue to his communiqué on drums.
The first set continued on with other songs played with equal enthusiasm by all members of the New Horizons Ensemble, including "3-D Theme," from Mean Ameen (2004 Delmark) a bopish tune that burned and smoked "Dreams For Rhasaan" ended the set and created a mood of anticipation as to what the next set would reveal.
The second set opened with "Messapatanium Two Step" a sad lament with a Middle Eastern flavour, a tune composed by Steve Berry. The set transformed into a jam session from this point on, the highlight of which, a beautiful vocal performance by Sudanese musician Waleed Abdulhamid, now based in Toronto. Waleed is a multi instrumentalist and leader of his own band Radio Nomad, his performance blended with Dawkins’ ensemble and seemed a part of the essence of what New Horizons Ensemble is all about. Music from the heart, music from the soul, passionate, honest, exciting and intriguing.
Report by Paul J. Youngman KJA Jazz Advocate Nov. 2007