As part of Delmark Records' 50th anniversary celebration, the label has been issuing budget-priced compilations of some of its stellar offerings. Earlier in 2003, there were double CDs of jazz and blues followed by a host of single-disc compilations. This is one of the most satisfying, a single-disc overview of the Windy City's vanguard tradition as it bridges the passing and new centuries. Nothing on this set was recorded before 1993 (Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio's "Trane in Mind") and some was recorded as late as 2002 (guitarist Jeff Parker's "Holiday for a Despot"). In between are offerings from leader like Ken Vandermark and his Sound in Action Trio, Ernest Dawkins' New Horizon Ensemble, Malachi Thompson (who began to come into his own in the 1990s), and Rob Mazurek with the Chicago Underground. In addition, many of the leaders here -- such as Mazurek, Parker, and Vandermark -- are part of other ensembles. From the smoking, jump blues and post-bop of "Stranger" by the Dawkins ensemble that clearly echoes the tradition while extending it beyond its imagination to the loping, Latin-tinged exotica of Mazurek's "Ostinato," to the Afro-blues modalism of El'Zabar's "Trane in Mind" and Thompson's "An Elevated Cry," as well as sonic extrapolations aplenty when Vandermark, Parker, and the NRG Ensemble use jazz as a platform for a world of musical ideas, this collection is provocative, riveting, and quite accessible. If you are a looking for a way into the outside in general, or to survey the breadth and depth of Chicago's jazz vanguard, this compilation is for you.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek