Few bands have achieved so much recognition and respect from so little output as 8 Bold Souls. In 18 years Ed Wilkerson’s octet has recorded all of four albums, performing only occasionally in Chicago and less than that in New York. They’ve never toured this continent or any other; yet the group has inspired raves in publications from Down Beat to the Atlantic Monthly. Wilkerson’s concept telescopes the sonic discoveries of the AACM into those of Duke Ellington a half-century earlier. He writes music as translucent as it is steeply tiered and spreads it evenly around an inventively instrumented lineup, which sets trombone, tuba, and cello alongside Wilkerson’s own barrelhouse tenor and Mwata Bowden’s breezy, blustering baritone and ruby-in-the-rough clarinet. As did Ellington, Wilkerson at his best builds compositions that launch his soloists rather than merely supporting them, and the resulting improvisations become intrinsic components of the overall work. The group’s most recent album is still Last Option (Thrill Jockey, 2000), but at any level of productivity, they remain one of the great Chicago ensembles. The Souls perform as part of the annual Jazz Fair, a midwinter event created by the Jazz Institute of Chicago in 1979 and now completely underwritten by the city. It’s the free centerpiece of a three-day program called the Winter Delights Jazz Immersion Weekend, which includes concerts Thursday night and Saturday afternoon, in addition to a full program of jazz films and a midway of exhibitors and merchants. The fair runs from 7 to midnight, and the Souls play at 7:30; for a complete schedule of acts see listing in Fairs & Festivals. Friday, January 23, 7:30 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-427-1676.

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