Saxist and composer Edward Wilkerson’s longstanding octet 8 Bold Souls remains not just viable but exciting. Wilkerson’s open-ended compositions and detailed arrangements have always compressed jazz history, leapfrogging from its African roots to Duke Ellington’s small bands of the 30s all the way to postfreedom improvisation, but over the years he’s explored that approach with greater and greater complexity. On a new piece called “Brown Town,” he augments the loosey-goosey anachronicity of his original models–a clarinet-and-trumpet obbligato borrowed from early New Orleans jazz–with the 1950s Jazz Messengers sound, stacking brawny, hard-bopping lines and counterlines for his own tenor and Isaiah Jackson’s puissant trombone. But not even an ensemble this accomplished and united (the Souls have made only two personnel changes in the 90s) can do magic without hard work: at a recent show another new piece, “Odyssey,” started promisingly with Mwata Bowden’s strident, spritzy clarinet solo, but the band turned into a directionless search party on some 12-bar blues. The Souls can spin gold from the gauzy textures and ambiguous tonality of a piece like this, though, and undoubtedly they will with a few more tries. Robert Griffin’s trumpet work sounds better than ever–one tune has him playing two horns simultaneously a la saxist Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and he leads his section with nonchalant precision–and the “string section” (bassist Harrison Bankhead and cellist Naomi Millender) plumbs the deep swing of drummer Dushun Mosley like Jacques Cousteau diving from the continental shelf. The Souls are in the middle of a two-month residency at HotHouse, toward the end of which they’ll record an eagerly awaited new album. Tuesdays in July, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.