A former President of the Chicago-based Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who is a co-leader of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and leader of the New Horizons Ensemble, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins leads a program of straight ahead jazz on his latest Delmark album, Afro Straight. Dawkins, a noted composer as well as a musician and band leader, has assembled a group that includes Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Willerm Delisfort on piano, Junius Paul on bass and Isaiah Spencer on drums with Ruben Alvarez or others playing congas and percussion. Ben Paterson on organ for one selection. The album is interprets eight standards and modern jazz classics, along with two Dawkins originals. With the percussionist on many selections, a definite Afro-Latin flavor is prevalent
The opening rendition of John Coltrane’s tribute to bassist Paul Chambers, Mr. P.C., establishes the authority that Dawkins, Wilkes and the rest play with. Even more satisfying is a rendition of a lesser known Wayne Shorter composition, United. After Dawkins’ original that gives this recording its title, a percussion feature for Dawkins, Alvarez and Greg Penn, Dawkins (with Wilkes sitting out) provides his take of another Coltrane composition, Central Park West, with pianist Delisfort standing out.
Dizzy Gillespie’s classic, Woody’N You, opens with muted trumpet from Wilkes before Dawkins’ vocalized saxophone. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, opens with a brief flurry of free playing before the group evokes the hard bop of the late fifties and early sixties with some wonderful playing by all. Ben Paterson’s organ on God Bless The Child provides a soulful underpinning for Dawkins’ expressive playing. Spencer plays lightly here on an outstanding performance. Old Man Blues is a straight blues with wonderful playing along with Dawkins’ amiable vocal of traditional blues lyrics. A spirited interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Juju” closes out this CD.
Dawkins considers Afro Straight to be a tribute to John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Von Freeman, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and other great jazz saxophonists. Throughout Dawkins and band lend their own voices to well-known songs for the imaginative and fresh recordings on this. This is an excellent recording that easily refutes the stereotype that free jazz players can’t play straight-ahead. They can and do so convincingly here.