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Ernest Dawkins: The Double Down Project

Ami ElSaffar: Kinetic

Co Presented by Blank Forms

Tues May 14, 2024, 8pm (doors 7:30)

at The Brooklyn Music School

126 Felix St., Brooklyn, NY 11217


One of the most extraordinary exponents of Chicago's planetary jazz aesthetic, saxophonist and bandleader Ernest Dawkins debuts his new group The Double Down Project on May 14, 2024. Formed in 2023, the ensemble derives its name from their doubling of instruments: two saxophones and two drummers, fortifying the frontline and backbeat of Ernest's bold compositions. Whether he's playing alto, tenor, or soprano, Ernest's sound spirals out of a deep blues impulse, reaching for the instrument's outer edges and holding it all together with a powerful tone and sophisticated sense of rhythm.


A former chair of the Chicago chapter of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Ernest was instrumental in keeping the organization's spirit alive in the period after many of its founders moved east in the late 1970s. Growing up with Anthony Braxton as a neighbor and Joseph Jarman as one of his teachers, it's not surprising that Ernest developed a distinctive sound on saxophone, which has gone on to shine alongside the likes of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, Malachi Favors, Lester Bowie, Roscoe Mitchell, Hamid Drake, and many others besides. As an educator and impresario, Ernest spent years teaching in Chicago's public schools, founded the long-running Englewood Jazz Festival, and set up the non-profit arts organization Live The Spirit Residency. As a composer and bandleader he sustained the remarkable New Horizons ensemble for over two decades ("Chicago is just about the only place you can keep a group together on a consistent basis," Ernest explained in the mid-1990s, "guys here just believe more in the group concept"). Whatever his chosen musical vehicle—be it the Aesop Quartet, his Chicago 12, his Chicago Trio, or something else entirely—Ernest explores the full gamut of aesthetic possibilities opened up by his forebears: the freedom to be avant-garde and the freedom not to be, inspired in part by Muhal Richard Abrams's maxim to "play it all, don’t limit yourself." It is this open orientation—Ancient to the Future—that runs through his music. 

The Double Down Project features Ernest Dawkins and Kevin King on saxophones, Thaddeus Tukes on vibraphones, Carmani Edwards on bass, and Isaiah Spencer and Reggie Nicholes on drums. Their New York debut is presented by FourOneOne and Blank Forms.

The Iraqi-American composer, trumpeter, vocalist and santur player Amir ElSaffar has long explored the rich idiomatic intersections between jazz and Iraqi maqam. After moving from Chicago to New York and performing in Cecil Taylor's ensemble, Amir in 2002 began to study the centuries-old vocal tradition under its few surviving practitioners. With the fresh formation Kinetic, Amir assembles a group of collaborators new and old, staking out a distinctive synthesis of free improvisation, Iraqi maqam, and electronics. Musicians Ole Mathisen (saxophone), Zafer Tawil (guitar), and Nasheet Waits (drums) have performed with Amir for over two decades, often under the banner of the Two Rivers Ensemble, while Brandon Ross (guitar) and Harish Raghavan (oud and percussion) are recent interlocutors, guaranteeing a set of tight and spontaneous sonic collisions.

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