Recording Date: 1999.08.07,08
Recording information: Electrical Audio Recording, Chi (08/07/1999, 08/08/1999).
Eight Bold Souls have been one of the finest and most under-appreciated jazz ensembles in Chicago since their inception in 1985. Plagued by an astonishing lack of interest from record labels, leader Ed Wilkerson was considering reviving his own Sessoms imprint when he was introduced to Bettina Richards, head of famed independent record label, Thrill Jockey. This unlikely pairing has led to Eight Bold Souls' finest album to date. Last Option was recorded by Casey Rice (Tortoise, Eleventh Dream Day, Joan of Arc) at Steve Albini's famed Electrical Audio Recording. Due to the design of the room, the band was able to perform as a unit, all in the same space, with no headphones or baffling to separate musicians, and the results are stellar. Every instrument can be heard clearly, even while the full ensemble is playing. Wilkerson's compositions and arrangements are the true star of the show, with everyone in the band playing beautifully in service to the compositions. He's a democratic composer as well, with everyone but tuba player Gerald Powell getting at least two solo spotlights apiece. Wilkerson covers a great deal of musical territory as well. "Third One Smiles" has a tasty second line rhythm, contrasted with the chamber jazz-oriented piece, "Art of Tea," which features Naomi Millender's cello up front with Harrison Bankhead's bass. "Pachinko" could be used to good effect as music for a chase scene, and "Brown Town" swings like nobody's business. Every soloist is up to the task, with special mention going to Robert Griffin Jr.'s trumpet and Mwata Bowden's clarinet (especially on the spiralling title cut).
Last Option is largely successful in capturing the excitement of the band's live shows. With an interested label and a more representative recording, let's hope Eight Bold Souls begin to receive the recognition they deserve.
- Sean Westergaard (All Music Guide)
Maybe the time is right for creative music. I'm not going to say "jazz music" because I'll scare a quarter of the readers and 98% of record buyers away. But with this release on Thrill Jockey, an alternative electronic/pop/rock/punk label, creative music may just find its audience. Today's creative music listener might stack Hip-Hop next to Ennio Morricone, Les Baxter, and John Zorn's Masada. The modern discriminating listener is motivated more by musicianship than anarchy. Essentially that was the credo of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) founded in the 1960s. Artists such as Muhal Richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, Lester Bowie and Fred Anderson began a Chicago tradition of creative music, which had fellow musician's respect but not a national audience.
Enter Edward Wilkerson, Jr. a second generation AACM member and founder of 8 Bold Souls. His concept parallels fellow AACM artist Henry Threadgill's Very Very Circus band with its odd instrumentation that favors the bottom end. 8 Bold Soul features bass, cello, tuba, and trombone. But Wilkerson's writing never muddies or gets stuck in this sound because he can easily shift from New Orleans to uptown Ellington. Recorded old school, in one big room without amplification, required the musicians to take into account the group's 'sound' and to allow plenty of space to individual parts and improvisation. This crispness of sound might have come from Wilkerson's prior work with Kahil El'Zabar's percussion band, Ethnic Heritage Ensemble. Mwata Bowden's baritone sax coupled with the magnificent cello of Naomi Millender and Harrison Bankhead's bass make for ponderous music. The band favors odd time signatures to showcase its instruments and compositions. From a funeral dirge to the circus-like, the creative octet fourth recording is getting noticed by all the right listeners.
- Mark Corroto, Published: April 1, 2000