The comeback of Chicago trumpeter Malachi Thompson--from stalled creativity (on the artistic plane) and cancer (on the physical)--makes for one of the most satisfying stories in recent years, and no aspect of his music symbolizes that comeback better than his big band, the Africa Brass. Thompson's small bands, for all their spirit, tend to have a certain clunkiness; yet on last year's album Lift Every Voice (Delmark), the Africa Brass successfully exploits that very quality, through audacious arrangements and the blatant, untrammeled power of nine horns in flight. In the 80s Thompson played briefly with Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, a similarly instrumented unit; but even before Bowie started that band Thompson himself had fooled around with something he called Brass Proud. His latest incarnation of the format bristles with three to four trombones, four trumpets, and a heartening rhythm section (illuminated by the steady beacon of Harrison Bankhead's bass, and minus piano). The band's name connotes Thompson's regard for John Coltrane, who recorded an important album under that title in 1961; that album had relatively little to do with African music per se, but Thompson has added a steady diet of African-inspired songs to the band's book. Not since a series of weekly workshop sessions in '92 has Africa Brass performed with anything approaching regularity--the band's large size and still relatively small repertoire prohibit, say, Tuesday nights at the Sardine Bar--which gives this engagement an added degree of excitement. Saturday, 7 PM, DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl.; 947-0600. Africa Brass will also perform Sunday, October 2, at the HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee (235-2334), with special guest Lester Bowie.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ted Gray.