8 Bold Souls don't record much--a paltry four albums since their founding in 1985--but year in and year out, the octet remains one of Chicago's best working bands. A prime reason is the composing of director and tenor saxophonist Edward Wilkerson Jr. He's a master of recombination, grouping the players along various lines to good ends: trumpet, trombone, and tuba to the fore for shades of community brass bands, tuba and bass voiced together for a cavernous bottom end, cello and bass melded as a mini string section, a piping clarinet lead to suggest old New Orleans, reeds and brass blended to hint at a big band's power or at Gil Evans's orchestral cool jazz (as on the intro to "Gang of Four," from the Souls' most recent release, Last Option). Like Henry Threadgill's 1980s seven-piece Sextett, likewise marked by the presence of cello and absence of piano, 8 Bold Souls reconnect the language of early jazz and the historical avant-garde. Makes sense--like Threadgill, Wilkerson is a product of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Wilkerson cooks up simple but propulsive riffs too, booted by Gerald Powell's pumping air bass and Dushun Mosley's flinty trap drumming. Maybe it makes him a throwback, but the leader is committed to the idea of the long, long solo: any Soul who gets the nod can filibuster awhile. Luckily, Wilkerson usually limits the number of soloists per piece to two or three. He himself is the band's star improviser, with his swaggering big-toned tenor, although Mwata Bowden's throaty, insistent clarinet often hits the mark. All but a couple of the eight have been around since the band's early days--a sign Wilkerson keeps the troops happy, in case the joyful soaring music doesn't give it away. The Souls have played HotHouse many times over the years, and fittingly they'll help the venue celebrate its 15th anniversary this weekend, on a bill with the Jackson Project, featuring trumpeter David Young. It's a fund-raiser, so admission is pricier than usual, but the $20 ticket includes one drink and hors d'oeuvres. Friday, May 10, 9 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Darlene Martin.