Ed Wilkerson / Michael Zerang Duo

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Chicago Reader

Saturday 2/23/02
By Kevin Whitehead

By now Ed Wilkerson has taken his place in the long line of great Chicago tenor players, including some he listened to closely on the way up: Von Freeman, Fred Anderson, Ari Brown. Like Freeman or Eddie Harris, he favors a gruff, back-of-the-throat growl–welcome relief from the shellacked-reed shrillness too many tenor players picked up from Saturday Night Live. Also like Freeman, he can stretch a note like Silly Putty or turn it into a question, teasing the pitch. Like Brown or Gene Ammons, he can construct a thoughtful solo or wail like an R & B honker. And like Anderson, he can pace himself to run long without running out of fuel. But Wilkerson has plenty of his own striking stuff, including his careful attention to dynamics: he mixes whispers and shouts in a single line, ascends to feathery high notes, and sometimes drops to a quiet subtone, a good departure point for a slowly unfolding solo. Wilkerson’s heard most often in his band 8 Bold Souls, where he’s but one able soloist, and their shows can leave the saxophonist’s fans craving more. But for these improvised duets with drummer Michael Zerang–the pair’s first collaboration, after years of talking about one–he’ll be way out front. Now that Zerang has his own performance space, the tiny Candlestick Maker, he’s invited a few other south-side and AACM musicians in for a duo or trio, including Mwata Bowden, Ernest Dawkins, and David Boykin. Duos are a Zerang staple; he knows how to hang back and let a partner take the wheel, and when to stoke the furnace or force a change of course. He’s also one of the rare collectors of odd-sized and -sounding drums and cymbals who knows what to do with them all. His fast, clattery and metallic style is ear tickling and individual (no Paul Lovens wannabe he), and gives other players a firm but not overbearing push. For his turn as pushee Wilkerson will also bring his clarinet and alto clarinet, an ax that lends itself to eerie vocal inflections.

Saturday, February 23, 9 PM
Candlestick Maker
4432 North Kedzie


February 23, 2001
By Charles Sudo

As the songwriter, visionary force, and de facto leader of the Chicago octet 8 Bold Souls for over fifteen years, Edward Wilkerson, Jr. has earned a place among the great tenor saxophonists of that city’s tenor royalty- Von Freeman, Ari Brown, and Fred Anderson. Although a member in good standing of the south side collective Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), Wilkerson’s talent for improvising gets lost in the shuffle of the compositions of the Souls and his larger big band, Shadow Vignettes. A wonderfully expressive performer, Wilkerson tends to play with a throaty, R&B spiced growl, similar to Freeman, but he can sustain extended solos without signs of fatigue, a la Anderson. With the Souls taking a bit of a break, the opportunity for Wilkerson to spread his wings came via an invitation from drummer Michael Zerang. The versatile percussionist and experimental music stalwart recently opened his own performance space, the Candlestick Maker, in Chicago’s Albany Park neighborhood. In recent months Zerang has invited some of the top musicians in Chicago and the world to perform at the space: Mwata Bowden, Jeff Parker, Ernest Dawkins, Leroy Jenkins, and Peter Brotzmann. The pairing with Wilkerson, talked about for years, bacame a reality Saturday night. For a duet partner, Wilkerson could not have chosen better than Zerang, a gifted player who knows when to stoke a colaborator. Zerang set the tone early with low rumbling tom rolls, allowing Wilkerson to work through his initial nervousness with short squawks and muted bursts from his saxophone. Wilkerson followed Zerang’s lead until finally removing the towel from the bell of his sax and letting loose with a flurry of scales and notes that hung like smoke rings in the balmy, unseasonably warm night. From that point, the two players established a rapport that was almost telepathic. Zerang utilized a wide (and odd) array of cymbals placed on the drum skins, while Wilkerson alternated between tenor, clarinet, and alto clarinet to find the perfect complement for Zerang’s persussion.

Venue: Candlestick Maker (Chicago, Illinois, US)