Harrison Bankhead, bass Edward L. Wilkerson, tenor saxophone Jim Baker, piano Avreeayl Ra, drums
A native of Waukegan, Ill, bassist and composer Harrison Bankhead became associated with the Chicago jazz scene in the early 1980s and has since become one of the principal bass players on the scene, excelling in every kind of jazz. Early in his career he collaborated with Fred Anderson, playing accompanying him on tour and at Anderson’s Chicago club, the Velvet Lounge. In addition to Anderson, Bankhead has worked with Oliver Lake, Roscoe Mitchell, Von Freeman, Malachi Thompson, 8 Bold Souls, and Hamid Drake, and is a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. His first album as a leader, Morning Sun/Harvest Moon, was released on Engine, a sublabel of ESP-Disk, in 2011, and featured sidemen Edward Wilkerson, Jr., Mars Williams, James Sanders, Avreeayl Ra, and Ernie Adams. His more recent album, Velvet Blue, on the same label, featured a version of the quartet that performs tonight.
Edward L. Wilkerson Jr. is an internationally recognized composer, arranger, saxophonist, clarinetist, and educator based in Chicago, where he has been closely associated with the AACM, serving at one time as its president. He first came to prominence as a member of Khalil El’Zabar’s Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, participating in a number of recording by the group. As founder and director of the cutting-edge octet 8 Bold Souls, and the 25-member Shadow Vignettes ensemble, Wilkerson has toured festivals and concert halls throughout the United States, Europe, Japan, and the Middle East. “Defender,” a large-scale piece for Shadow Vignettes, was commissioned by the Lila Wallace/Reader’s Digest Fund and featured in the 10th Anniversary of New Music America, a presentation of BAM’s Next Wave Festival. His music can be heard on over a dozen recordings, including two film soundtracks and the critically acclaimed albums Birth of a Notion, and 8 Bold Souls, both on his own Sessoms Records label.
Jim Baker studied piano with Thomas Scott and composition at the University of Illinois at Urbana with Morgan Powell and Herbert Brun. Since the 1980s he has been mainstay of the Chicago improvisors scene, noted for his work with Kent Kessler and Michael Zerang. He then played with Fred Anderson, Guillermo Gregorio, Ken Vandermark, Edward Wilkerson and many others. He made his first recordings in 1995 with the trio Caffeine (consisting of Baker, Ken Vandermark and Steve Hunt). Baker appeared on European jazz festivals, with Vandermark’s Chicago Improvisers at the Moers Festival and with Fred Lonberg-Holm at the Tampere Jazz Happening in Finland. In 1996 he performed at the FMP in a trio with Rüdiger Carl and Stephan Wittwer in the Chicago Festival. In the following years he worked with Steve Beresford, Damon Short, Nicole Mitchell, Dave Rempis and the Exploding Star Orchestra, participating in nearly forty recording sessions.
Drummer/percussionist Avreeayl Ra grew up in Chicago in a house full of music: his father, Arthur “Swinglee” O’Neil, was a tenor saxophonist who mentored many young Chicago musicians, including John Gilmore. He studied drums with Kelan Philip Cohran, one of the cofounders of the AACM and has since remained a member of that organization. Ra has performed and/or recorded with Fred Anderson, Amiri Baraka, Fontella Bass, Lester Bowie, Ari Brown, Oscar Brown, Jr., Charles Gayle, Henry Grimes, Billy Harper, Joseph Jarman, Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Nicole Mitchell, Sun Ra, Pharoah Sanders, Malachi Thompson, and many others.
According to the Chicago Tribune he is “an indispensable Chicago innovator, Avreeayl Ra shapes the music-making swirling around him with remarkable precision and poise... extraordinarily sensitive percussion.”