Notes From the Underground: Wilkes blends old and new styles.

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Corey Wilkes may be winning the Jazz Wars. The 30-year-old trumpeter belongs to Chicago’s experimental Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians collective—part of the avant-garde scene opposed by the Wynton Marsalis–led Young Lions contingent, on the grounds that experimentalism is typically born from musicians’ incompetence with swinging, bop-based jazz. But Wilkes not only holds his own with the Lions’ mainstream style on Cries From tha Ghetto—he and his sextet, Abstrakt Pulse, one-up its rhythmically aggressive tack. This is partly a function of the four-man rhythm section: Bassist Junius Paul, drummer Isaiah Spencer, hard-edged guitarist Scott Hesse, and tap dancer Jumaane Taylor (who even takes chopsy solos). But it also involves elements of funk, with which Wilkes is equally conversant, mixed into the arrangements. Minus its 5/4 bridge, opener “First Mind” is a certified James Brown groove, with soloists Hesse, Wilkes, and tenor saxophonist Kevin Nabors announcing jazzy melodic ideas but riding the strident rhythm. Other tracks bring the funk more subtly. “Chasin’ Leroy” sneaks in a wah-wah guitar; “Levitation” sounds like uncompromising neo-bop but with a syncopated vamp from Hesse that fuses with Spencer’s odd accents to form a speedy but undeniably slinky line. Even when Abstrakt Pulse isn’t funky, the band plays up the rhythms. “Visionary of an Abstrakt” swings almost maniacally through shifting tempos and a brief Latin break. And on the title track, guitar, bass, and bass drum all work in four-to-the-bar unison—even during Wilkes’ growling, surprisingly delicate solo, the beat will not be ignored. Although he outswings the swingers, Wilkes serves up reminders that he’s a post-modernist with four short “Abstrakt” tracks, including a duet for trumpet and tap shoes, that act as innovative snapshots. The avant garde goes feature-length on the group improvisation “Sick JJ,” a mad dissonance in which bass and guitar churn angrily while Spencer, Taylor, Wilkes, and Nabors chatter with and respond to one another in broken, carefully plotted phrases. Ballads get a fair shake, too: Wilkes plays the wistful “Rain” with spaces and slurs (and mute) that seem to choke with emotion, and he gives Lester Bowie’s Italianate romance “Villa Tiamo” just enough atonality to be playful. Although Cries From tha Ghetto can be sensitive and strange, it has a concentration on swing that, intentionally or not, gives critics of vanguard the what for. It won’t ease the tensions between traditionalists and the experimentalists, but it will ensure that no matter how far out Wilkes ventures in the future, nobody on the other side can say that he couldn’t compete on their turf.