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V/A - Chicago's Avant Today

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Artist: V/A

Album: Chicago's Avant Today

Label: Delmark

Review date: Feb. 9, 2004

On the Wicked City jazz circuit, it’s always the Chinese Year of the Horse. That is, much Chicago jazz is strong, stubborn, charismatic, ego-driven. It creates a lot of opportunities for itself as it garners beaucoup publicity. Yet it remains fundamentally conservative, and harbors a reservoir of anger that often consumes and overwhelms its arty intentions. When it’s “difficult,” that’s why.

The seven combos represented on this comp (one of several commemorating Delmark’s 50th b-day) never subvert the ancient jazz edicts. What makes them interesting is the aggression they channel through the rusty old conduits.

The disc starts with two “Ensembles” – that’s “ahn-SAHM-bulls,” not “awn-SAWMS.” Ernest Dawkins’ New Horizons Ensemble swaggers out of the gate, packs in as many notes as’ll fit and hits the gut with every shot… and retains its dignity. The NRG Ensemble’s unfiltered art-aggro piledriver “Hyperspace” should placate anyone who’s ever enjoyed a Rollins Band record.

Ken Vandermark has won fans outside the scene for serving up complexity without getting all pseudo-intellectual about it. “Top Shelf” (from his Sound Action Trio’s Design In Time LP) confirms his rep as well as anything else in his catalogue.

Of course, Sun Ra lived here, too, and did business with Delmark. But the “be-bo-bops” that decorate the intro to swinger Malachi Thompson’s otherwise straight-up “An Elevated Cry” are the only ornaments that bespeak his influence. Chicago’s Avant Today is leaner and meaner than it was in Ra’s time. Jeff Parker’s protracted rumble “Holiday For a Despot” is more the current speed.

All this stuff is otherwise available, which makes this CD worthless to the dope-puffing aristocrats that’re truly immersed in this stuff. However, if you cut your choppers on punk and feel these degrading times require a new language for rage, you’ll feel this, satchem.

By Emerson Dameron

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