|The snows of winter in Chicago often reveal as much as they cover. During the month of January Chicago slows down in what may be called a citywide hibernation. In January of 1985 eight musicians came together to premier new music for a series of Thursday night concerts in downtown Chicago at a performance venue called Chicago Filmmakers. The group featured the unusual instrumentation of two woodwinds, trumpet, trombone, cello, tuba, bass, and trap drums. The concerts, entitled "New Music for 8 Bold Souls", were successful with both critics and musicians. Hence the formation for the group known as 8 Bold Souls, led by Composer, Reedist Edward Wilkerson.
In order to have a good understanding of 8 Bold Souls it is important to understand a bit more about the ensemble’s leader. Musically Wilkerson finds inspiration from those he has studied or worked with such as Muhal richard Abrams, Henry Threadgill, LesterRBowie, Fred Anderson, Von Freeman, Johnny Britt, as well as many other fellow members of the AACM. He is equally inspired by those he has listened to such as Duke Ellington, Igor Stravinsky, Ornette Coleman, Coleman Hawkins, Bela Bartok, Jimmy Lunceford, Maurice Ravel and ethnic music such as pygmy music from the Ituri forest. In addition, Wilkerson cites many non-musical inspirations like family, education and readings. Fostered by the AACM, Wilkerson learned to think about music in an encouraging environment that promoted musical education in equal doses with experimentation. 8 Bold Souls' music is both melodic (reminiscent of small groups led by Ellington and Lunceford) and challenging (featuring complex arrangements for innovative instrumentation). The Music of Last Option showcases this duality nicely.
One of the signature trademarks of 8 Bold Souls is the predominance of low sounding instruments. The bass, cello, tuba and trombone all combine to form a unique "basso continuo" that is a hallmark for most of the compositions. In most groups the bass functions as the "bottom" of the music. With the Souls, it is the tuba, cello, and trombone sharing this "bottom" responsibility. Having such density of sound at the low end, it is remarkable that 8 Bold Souls is able to present each instrument with such clarity. The clarity is achieved both compositionally and through the musicians themselves having a thorough understanding of their role within the structure of this foundation. Understanding can be achieved through years of performance and rehearsal, and a sense of sharing and love that comes through in the music. Harrison, Naomi, Isiah, and Gerald have done a remarkable job of maintaining this equilibrium.
For Last Option, the ensemble wanted to capture the ambience and excitement of live performance. The recording technique was drawn from recordings from the 1950’s of groups recorded with only a few microphones in a good room. At Chicago’s Electrical Audio they found the microphone collection and the room that would allow them to play together, largely effect free (compression was applied on some tracks sparingly). The resulting recording, Last Option, succeeds stunningly. The opener "Odyssey" sways naturally with the horns whilst retaining remarkable intimacy with the clarinet, cello, and brushes. The energy of "Pachinko" and "Brown Town", the textures of "Art of Tea", the bouancy of "Third One Smiles"- Last Option is remarkable in its clarity and immediacy.
Over the course of four albums and many more years, 8 Bold Souls has toured the United States, Europe, Japan and the Middle East. Last Option is their first recording in several years. The long break has allowed the ensemble to work through the material and experiment with presentation. Last Option achieves tight ensemble passages that still maintain a sense of freedom. 8 Bold Souls has topped numerous jazz lists. Their achievements as an ensemble and as individuals are too numerous to list. Wilkerson’s compositions pared with the Souls commitment to creativity and musicianship result in music that is as "unpredictable as it is profound, as sensually exhilarating as it is intellectually provocative," says the Chicago Tribune.