You almost can’t go wrong with a lineup like Bill McFarland’s: a potent, hard-driving outfit that matches his throaty trombone with a beef-stew saxophonist (in this case Hank Ford) and a fluent, octave-stretching trumpet ace (Kenny Anderson). This kind of three-horn sextet first appeared in the 1940s, as a bebop miniaturization of the big bands that had dominated the swing era. It disappeared for most of the next decade–in part because of the paucity of trombonists able to handle the technical demands of bop–but it reached its zenith when Art Blakey expanded his Jazz Messengers to a three-horn line in the 1960s. The Messengers offer an obvious model for McFarland’s band. But so does the music of the Jazz Crusaders (and not just on those tunes where electronic keyboards replace the standard piano). Several of the songs on the Chicago Horns’ fine debut–Fire Horns (Moonlight Records)–show the lighter swing, the comparatively relaxed melodies, and the pop-soul song structure that made the Crusaders one of the most popular jazz bands of the 1960s. Both the Messengers and the Crusaders always featured strong piano personalities, and in this respect McFarland again brags on his roots: you needn’t go any further than the album’s opening track, the McFarland composition (and mayoral dedication) “Harold the Great,” which depends on the crisp and imaginative piano fills by Osamu Sam Soda as much as it does on the three horns. Soda leads a sparkling rhythm section, with bassist Mike Staron and drummer Rick Vitek, who dances the tightrope between timekeeping and pure energy. Meanwhile, the horns themselves fit the music and each other as tight as O.J.’s gloves. Friday, 9 PM, Green Dolphin Street, 2200 N. Ashland; 395-0066. Monday, 9:30 PM, the Bulls, 1916 N. Lincoln Park West; 337-3000. (By the by, McFarland and Anderson both lend their estimable talents to Africa Brass, the gleaming locomotive of a band conducted by Malachi Thompson; they play this Saturday at the Hyde Park/Kenwood Jaaz Festival, with special guest trumpeter Lester Bowie. See listings for details.)

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