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8 Bold Souls is the most famous unknown band in America. They play mostly in tiny Chicago clubs, far from the center of the jazz world; nevertheless, when the Village Voice took a poll of jazz critics to determine the outstanding albums of the 1980s, 8 Bold Souls won second place–especially amazing considering the disc was issued by Chicago’s obscure Sessoms label. The usually New York-focused music press has covered them for years, and a few years ago the Atlantic Monthly printed a long interview with their leader, Edward Wilkerson Jr. (reprinted in Francis Davis’s 1990 book Outcats). These are eight terrific musicians: the distinctive musical voices are Wilkerson himself, who plays clarinets and funky, swaggering tenor sax; Mwata Bowden, who plays fierce, ecstatic clarients and saxophones; the edgy, intricate trumpeter Robert Griffin; elegant trombonist Isaiah Jackson; bumptious tuba player Aaron Dodd; brooding, near-classical cellist Naomi Millender; and the sophisticated rhythm team of Harrison Bankhead, bass, and Dushun Moseley, drums. Wilkerson’s subtle compositions explore both intimate and wildly extroverted emotions, and when the Souls are cooking they convey the complexities of modern jazz with the color and excitement of early jazz bands like Ellington’s and Fletcher Henderson’s. With a European tour next month and another album on the horizon, 8 Bold Souls are poised to become one of the leading jazz units of the 1990s. Tonight, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kamau Kadirifu.