8 Bold Souls

Perhaps it's because he stayed put in Chicago while so many of his AACM colleagues moved to New York, or maybe because he's a bit younger than his more well-known compatriots, but tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson Jr. has never gotten the exposure his talents deserve. In the '80s, when N.Y.C.-based saxophonist and bandleader David Murray was getting raves for his octet work, Wilkerson's 8 Bold Souls were making music every bit as profound. Indeed, Wilkerson's outfit outshone Murray's in many ways -- in terms of compositional rigor and ensemble precision 8 Bold Souls was far superior to Murray's band -- yet they got none of the critical attention afforded that overly loose unit. The band first came together in January 1985 for a series of Thursday night concerts at the downtown Chicago performance venue Chicago Filmmakers. The concerts themselves were entitled New Music for 8 Bold Souls; the name stuck. Wilkerson's energetic tenor is the dominant solo voice; as impressive a player as he is, however, 8 Bold Souls is primarily a compositional vehicle (to hear Wilkerson in top improvisational form, hear the three-piece Ethnic Heritage Ensemble). The band showcases the leader's good-humored, highly ambitious, and multi-faceted writing style. Wilkerson exploits the band's unusual instrumentation, gleaning unusual timbres from a combination that emphasizes the lower end of the tonal spectrum (Wilkerson uses both double bass and tuba). The band has been intermittently active since their formation. They recorded a pair of albums for the Arabesque label in the early '90s, but their next, (Last Option), did not appear until 1999 on the Chicago-based Thrill Jockey label. The group seems to have undergone something of a rebirth at the turn of the millennium; in addition to the new album, in 2001 they performed at Chicago's Symphony Center and several festivals, including one in Lisbon, Portugal. ~ Chris Kelsey

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