The 22nd annual Chicago Jazz Festival strikes a pretty good balance between what the people want (Dianne Reeves, Charles Lloyd, Big Band Monk) and what they need (Andrew Hill, Roscoe Mitchell, the Italian Instabile Orchestra). But it’s nearly impossible for any jazz artist to please everyone these days, and though the current democratic format of the festival does encourage serendipitous discovery, I’m starting to think last year’s multi-venue World Music Festival or the Montreal Jazz Festival might be a better model. The latter in particular is a logistical marvel, combining venues of all different sizes, both indoors and out, to provide the best experience for casual fans and close listeners alike. As Neil Tesser points out in his sidebar (page TK) the after-fest sessions at clubs and fest-week concerts at the Cultural Center have become a de facto way to plug holes in the festival programming, but incorporating them into the official planning might well benefit everyone involved.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 31
Petrillo Music Shell
5:50 PM Tribute to Wilbur Campbell With Robert Shy, Jerry Coleman, Curtis Price and Paul Wertico
Whether he was swinging standards behind Charlie Parker, flexing postbop muscle with Ira Sullivan, or getting expansive with members of the AACM, drummer Wilbur Campbell never let ego or flash get in the way of the music. To kick off the festival, four local percussionists will pay their respects to the late great trapsman with a brief improvised set. With 16 limbs among them, they might actually come close to capturing his spirit. A more extensive Campbell tribute is planned for Saturday (see below).
6:10 PM Henry Johnson Trio With Hank Crawford
On record, Wes Montgomery-influenced guitarist Henry Johnson usually plays bland smooth jazz a la George Benson–and for some reason, the festival has seen fit to give him a main-stage slot two years in a row. For this set he’ll be in soul-jazz mode, supported by terrific organist Chris Foreman and drummer Greg Rockingham. They’ll be joined by guest alto saxophonist Hank Crawford, a onetime Ray Charles sideman who’s worked regularly with Hammond B-3 maestro Jimmy McGriff.
7:10 PM Andrew Hill Sextet *
Pianist and idiosyncratic composer Andrew Hill was originally supposed to reunite here with 60s cohorts like vibist Bobby Hutcherson and bassist Richard Davis, but late cancellations ruined the plan. Which is fortuitous, actually, because it clears the way for Hill to bring in his current sextet–which is modeled, instrumentation-wise, on the group he used on his 1964 classic Point of Departure (Blue Note), with Eric Dolphy, Kenny Dorham, and Joe Henderson. The recent Dusk (Palmetto), Hill’s first album in a decade, ranks among his finest. Loosely inspired by Jean Toomer’s poetic 1923 novel, Cane, and distinguished by the complex horn arrangements of trumpeter Ron Horton, the album emphasizes group interplay: in “Ball Square,” an impatient postbop gem that previously appeared on Hill’s 1987 album, Shapes (Soul Note), tempos change, accents shift, and moods are altered in one succinct musical roller-coaster ride. Still, Hill manages to shine: the solo piece “Tough Love” is a lovely demonstration of his lyrical qualities, and his brief solos in the context of the group reveal his knack for Monkish rhythmic displacements and chunky, off-kilter phrasing. His excellent group includes Horton, reedist Marty Ehrlich, saxist Aaron Stewart, bassist Scott Colley, and drummer Nasheet Waits.
Dianne Reeves is not a typical headliner for the Chicago Jazz Festival; the booking seems to be something of a crossover experiment. Although she does some bona fide jazz singing on her latest album, In the Moment–Live in Concert (Blue Note), she infuses it with a pop sensibility; from her tight, snappy phrasing on Milton Nascimento’s “Bridges” to her inclusion of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne.” Reeves strains to keep everything she does, even her fast scatting runs, accessible. The record suffers from an oily fusion production job, but the stripped-down band that will back Reeves for this perfomance–pianist Otmaro Ruiz, bassist Reginald Veal, and drummer Rocky Bryant, plus outstanding and innovative young guest vibraphonist Stefon Harris–should be able to bring the songs across more cleanly.
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 1
Petrillo Music Shell
6:00 PM Guy Fricano Jazz Ensemble
Mainstream trumpeter Guy Fricano was first inspired to play by Louis Armstrong and over the years he’s worked with the big bands led by Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, and Buddy Rich, so not surprisingly his own work is melodic, high-spirited, and accessible. His group features reedists John Arabagon and Jack Barron, pianist David Gordon, bassist Anthony Brock, and drummer Michaele Fiale.
7:10 PM David Murray Octet
Of the countless different contexts reedist David Murray has played in over the decades–including the World Saxophone Quartet (which he cofounded), his blustery big band, the bouncy African fusion project Fo deuk Revue, and some searing trio dates–his longstanding octet is arguably the best showcase for his talent as an arranger. His complex but ebullient contrapuntal constructions range from orchestrally gorgeous to soulfully gritty, and tend to make any given tune feel more dynamic than it would in as interpreted by a smaller or more conventional group. He usually directs the octet through original material, but on their latest album–which is the template for this performance–they take on the music of John Coltrane. His challenging arrangements and extroverted tenor sax and bass clarinet machinations breathe new life into workhorses like “Giant Steps” and “Naima,” boppish early pieces like “Lazy Bird,” and even extended works like “Acknowledgment” from A Love Supreme. The band here will include most of the usual players–trumpeter Hugh Ragin, trombonist Craig Harris, reedist James Spaulding, pianist Lafayette Gilchrist, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummer Mark Johnson–plus a second trumpet player to be announced.
Visionary and expert trendspotter Herbie Hancock racked up the good reviews a couple years ago with Gerwshin’s World (Verve), which despite its kitchen-sink range–orchestral Gershwin, bebop Gershwin, pop Gershwin, stride Gershwin, Joni Mitchell Gershwin–was a disappointing step backward by a guy who early in his career made such significant strides in the realm of pure expression. (Then again, his notion of forward motion since the mid-70s has included the overuse of hip-hop-fusion shtick and the introduction of a Nirvana song as a “new standard.”) For tonight’s gig the pianist will continue to investigate Gershwin material, but instead of forcing it through the stylistic contortions of the album he’ll lead a fine young quartet: bassist Scott Colley and drummer Terri Lynn Carrington–who worked together recently on Greg Osby’s terrific The Invisible Hand (Blue Note)–and 22-year old Israeli-born rising-star saxophonist Eli Degibri.
SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 2
Jazz on Jackson
NOON Sabertooth Organ Quartet
For the last eight years this group has entertained late-night pub crawlers with its inspired, hard-swinging midnight sets, nearly every Saturday at the Green Mill. Saxophonists Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger, organist Dan Trudell, and drummer Ted Sirota–leader of his own excellent group, the Rebel Souls–have smoothly incorporated a wide range of material into their repertoire, from standards to ethnic-inspired originals.
1:00 PM Tribute to Gene Esposito With John Campbell and Joe Iaco
Solo piano tributes are an annual tradition at Jazz Fest; this year local fixtures John Campbell and Joe Iaco will toast pianist and arranger Gene Esposito, who died in 1999. Esposito was best known for accompanying singers, and during his career worked with Mel Torme, Johnny Hartman, Helen Humes, and Ruth Brown, among others.
2:15 PM Tribute to Wilbur Campbell Featuring Ira Sullivan and Stu Katz
A stylistically diverse who’s who of the local hard-bop scene will conduct a no-holds-barred two-hour jam session in Campbell’s honor. Besides vintage hard-bop hornman Ira Sullivan (in from Miami) and pianist Stu Katz (who performed in a Campbell tribute at Jazz Showcase in April), the list includes trumpeter Art Hoyle; saxophonists Von Freeman, Ari Brown, and Eric Schneider; pianists Jodie Christian and Willie Pickens; bassists Marlene Rosenberg, Dan Shapera, and Kelly Sill; and drummers Robert Shy, Paul Wertico, and Ajaramu. Emcee Joe Segal, owner of Jazz Showcase, will almost certainly share some firsthand memories from Campbell’s tenure as the club’s house drummer.
Jr. Jazz Children’s Stage
1:00 PM Urban Credo
A local dance and percussion troupe will explore traditions from the African diaspora, including African and Puerto Rican music and hip-hop.
2:00 PM John Santos
San Francisco-based percussionist John Santos will demonstrate some of the Afro-Caribbean rhythms integral to jazz.
3:00 PM Orbert Davis Quintet
Excellent local trumpeter Obert Davis will conduct a clinic in jazz ensemble basics.
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM Bobby Broom Trio
In weekly gigs at Martyrs’ and Pete Miller’s Steakhouse, the trio led by guitarist Bobby Broom has quietly earned a deserved reputation as one of the finest working jazz bands in the city. Broom (who works regularly with Dr. John), bassist Dennis Carroll, and drummer Dana Hall make every gesture count, turning in intuitively elegant, nuanced performances of otherwise unremarkable standards and solid originals.
6:00 PM Roscoe Mitchell & the Note Factory
In the Art Ensemble of Chicago and in his own groups, Roscoe Mitchell has done more to expand the vocabulary of jazz than almost any other musician, exploring the possibilities of sound for its own sake and investigating mind-numbing extended technique. On last year’s masterpiece Nine to Get Ready (ECM), he summarized the diverse compositional concerns of his four-decade career with a top-flight nonet, fufilling his dream of leading “an ensemble of improvising musicians with an orchestral range.” From the soft, rippling, mournful lines that intertwine on the elegiac opener, “Leola,” to the wild-and-woolly funk rock of the final track, “Big Red Peaches,” he proves that cerebral music can also engage the heart and the feet. For this concert he’ll lead a slightly amended version of the oddly configured group on that record, with guitarist Spencer Barefield subbing for trombonist George Lewis and bassist Leon Dorsey filling in for William Parker. The other members are trumpeter Hugh Ragin, pianists Matthew Shipp and Craig Taborn, bassist Jaribu Shahid, and drummers Tani Tabbal and Gerald Cleaver.
7:10 PM Charles Lloyd Quintet
Tenor saxophonist Charles Lloyed grew up in Memphis, steeped in the sounds of R & B, but by the mid-50s he’d dedicated himself to jazz, distinguishing himself early on with Cannonball Adderley. He found his own voice in the mid-60s, after starting a group with pianist Keith Jarrett and drummer Jack DeJohnette–and along with it unprecedented fame for a jazz musician. His accessible post-Coltrane sound caught on with rock community; he gigged at San Francisco’s famous Filmore Auditorium and several of his albums went platinum. He stepped away from music in the 70s to teach transcendental meditation, but since the 80s he’s recorded and performed regularly, if sparingly. His lush, sensual tone has mellowed over the years and ballads dominate his current repertoire, though there are flickers of the old, edgier sound on his brand-new The Water Is Wide (ECM): “The Monk and the Mermaid,” a duet with pianist Brad Mehldau, is distinguished by the way the two musicians drift in and out of sync. The fine group Lloyd will lead here consists of guitarist John Abercrombie and master drummer Billy Higgins, both of whom are on the new album, and bassist Marc Johnson.
I had the pleasure of seeing bassist Dave Holland in three strikingly different contexts at this year’s Montreal Jazz Festival–and though he led his own big band and played duets with guitarist Jim Hall, it wasn’t hard to see that this superb quintet was closest to his heart. Masterfully balancing edgy ensemble interplay and peerless soloing within elegant contrapuntal arrangements and tricky time signatures, the group has a rare ability to parlay progressive virtuosity into accessible musicality. Holland, himself a vet of Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew-era band and Circle with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton, has a tendency to surround himself with excellent players, and the current lineup of his quintet is impressive: at Montreal, Holland, reedist Chris Potter, trombonist Robin Eubanks, drummer Billy Kilson, and vibist Steve Nelson improved on the already execllent originals on the group’s latest album, Prime Directive (ECM), electrifying them with the sort of energy that can only be generated by steady touring. Although Kilson’s extroverted explosiveness sometimes threatened to topple the cart, no member had any problem holding his own in any situation.
SUNDAY, SEPTEMBER 3
Jazz on Jackson
NOON Gallery 37 Latin Jazz Band Performs Ruben Alvarez’s Raices y Sueños
Raices y Sueños (“Roots and Dreams”), by percussionist Ruben Alvarez, is the second installment in a series of commissions by the Chicago Jazz & Heritage program, in which local composers are asked to celebrate specific neighborhoods. Last year Ernest Dawkins feted Bronzeville; Alvarez’s piece honors Humboldt Park. This large-scale work, which received its premiere in Humboldt Park on August 11, will again be performed by the Gallery 37 Latin Jazz Band with a verbal component courtesy of poet David Hernandez. It draws upon a wide variety of traditional Puerto Rican rhythms, from bomba to plena; trumpeter Tito Carillo and Fabian Saldaña, who plays the Puerto Rican gutiar called the cuatro, are the featured soloists.
1:05 PM Grady Johnson Quintet
Like Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, and Von Freeman, saxophonist Grady Johnson was a student of the legendary DuSable High School music teacher Captain Walter Dyett. But though he went on to work with the likes of Nat King Cole, Charlie Parker, and Bud Powell, he never became a household name, choosing instead the financial stability of a career as a pharmacist. He never completely abandoned music, though, and today he’ll lead his current quintet, with guitarist Roland Faulkner, trombonist Dicky Harris, bassist Randy Ford, and drummer Jim McDonald, in a set of the elusive strain of jazz that bridged swing and bop.
2:05 PM Tatsu Aoki’s Miyumi Project
A refreshingly spare and successful attempt at ethnic fusion, Tatsu Aoki’s Miyumi Project works largely because it doesn’t bite off more than it could chew. On the group’s eponymously titled debut, issued recently by Southport, bassist Aoki ovesees a coherent combination of noisy jazz improvisation, Asian percussion, and simple hypnotic melodies. Patti Adachi (on the huge Japanese taiko), Paul Kim (on the Korean buk), and Hide Yoshihashi (on shime, a high-pitched Japanese hand drum) pound out primal, floor-rumbling grooves to be intersected by Mwata Bowden’s brash, sinewy baritone-sax, Aoki’s clipped, alternately bluesy and pointillistic bass patterns, and, on a handful of tracks, Robbie Hunsinger’s pinched double-reed playing. The timbral limitations of the percussion instruments and the fixed rhythms can be tedious, but more often they’re entrancing.
3:20 PM Liquid Soul
On its third album, Here’s the Deal (Shanachie), the popular local band Liquid Soul cranks out a slick, danceable funk-soul fusion that relies less and less on the fiery solos and hip-hop fundamentals that originally distinguished them from the acid-jazz pack. As usual the record includes one famous standard–this time it’s “All Blues” by Miles Davis–in a well-meaning attempt to turn the popular audience on to classic jazz, but the musicians seem trapped by their own grooves and never quite cut loose on it. Leader Mars Williams, a strong presence on the free-jazz scene (the NRG Ensemble, Witches & Devils, Cinghiale), contributes a fair amount of his usual paint-peeling sax overblowing, but more often the band’s sound is dominated by the post-Hendrix histrionics of guitarist Tom Sanchez. This booking is a promising move toward opening the fest up to the new generation of innovative stylistically adventurous jazz artists, but Isotope 217 would’ve been a far more interesting and challenging choice.
Jr. Jazz Children’s Stage
1:00 PM Brienn Perry
Brienn Perry, who regularly fronts the Chicago Grandstand Big Band, will conduct a jazz-singing workshop.
2:00 PM Shanta
Local storyteller Shanta, of the all-female AACM group Samana, will sing and tell African songs and stories.
3:00 PM Douglas Ewart
Experimental reedist and AACM stalwart Douglas Ewart will demonstrate some of the instruments he’s invented.
Petrillo Music Shell
5:00 PM Lester Bowie Tribute Band performs Beyond the Gray Haze
Beyond the Gray Haze was the last major work composed by Lester Bowie, one of the greatest innovators to ever put a trumpet to his lips. The work, commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, was an homage to his greatest influence, Louis Armstrong, and in his last Chicago appearance, not long before his untimely death last year, he conducted the piece with a local group for its premiere. Here it will be performed by a group conducted by his brother Byron and featuring his trombonist brother Joseph. The lineup is heavily peopled by some of Bowie’s most important collaborators, including reedist Roscoe Mitchell (see above) and bassist Malachi Favors Maghostut, his cohorts in the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Also on board are trumpeters Larry Bowen, Malachi Thompson, and Art Hoyle; trombonists Steve Berry, T.S. Galloway, and Tracy Kirk; reedists Ernest Dawkins, Ari Brown, Michael Salter, and Mwata Bowden; pianist Jodie Christian; and drummer Dana Hall.
6:00 PM Batacumbele With Giovanni Hidalgo and Papo Vasquez
Perhaps the most important Latin-jazz group to ever emerge from Puerto Rico, Batacumbele was founded two decades ago by percussionist Angel “Cachete” Maldonado and has served as a training ground for some of the finest Afro-Caribbean musicians in the world. Among its graduates are saxophonist David Sanchez, trumpeter Charlie Sepulveda, and the two special guests that will reunite with the band for tonight’s performance, conga master Giovanni Hidalgo and trombonist Angel “Papo” Vasquez. Batacumbele is Yoruba for “to kneel before the drum,” and though there’s plenty of fiery improvisation on the recent Hijos del Tambo, there’s no doubt that the group’s raison d’etre is rhythm. Tonight’s lineup is rounded out by trumpeter Juan Torres; reedist Benjamin Vega; pianist Yan Carlos Altima; bassist Edward Rivera; percussionists Maldonado, Anthony Carillo, Endel Dueno, and Jimmy Rivera; and accomplished singer, trumpeter and bandleader Jerry Medina.
7:10 PM Italian Instabile Orchestra
This gig is certain to be the major revelation of this year’s fest. The Italian Instabile Orchestra, first convened in 1990, is a large, woolly assemblage of the most adventurous musicians from Italy’s potent jazz community. Its mission is to bring together many of the threads running through Italian jazz–melancholy folk material, vaudevillian cheekiness, astounding technical feats, soul-searing intensity, unabashed experimentalism, a winning theatricality, and a genuine love and understanding for the full breadth of American jazz. One might expect an 18-member ensemble of any kind to sound totally out of control, but while some healthy chaos was a key ingredient of a performance I saw this summer in Montreal, on a larger scale the music was stunningly disciplined, even at its most absurd. The members take turns conducting their peers on original compositions that place equal emphasis on ensemble passages and roof-raising solos and duets; it’s not hyperbole to say there was never a dull moment. “Instabile” of course means unstable, and the lineup is in constant flux. Though heavies like trumpeter Enrico Rava and pianist Giorgio Gaslini have played in the band, none of the really big names are coming to Chicago. But many of those who are coming are distinguished in their own right: reedist Gianluigi Trovesi, for example, just released In cerca di cibo (ECM), a wonderful duet recording with accordion player Gianni Coscia that addresses Italian folk melodies with free jazz exuberance. Also on board are trumpeters Pino Minafra, Guido Mazzon, and Alberto Mandarini; trombonists Sebi Tramontana and Giancarlo Schiaffini (who played duets at the Empty Bottle Jazz Festival in 1999) and Lauro Rossi; French hornist Martin Mayes; reedists Carlo Actis Dato, Daniele Cavallanti, Eugenio Colombo, and Mario Schiano; violinist Renato Geremia; pianist Umberto Petrin; bassist Paulo Damiani; and percussionists Vincenzo Mazzone, Tiziano Tononi, and Ricardo Bergrone.
The festival closes this year by revisiting one of its greatest past successes: the 1986 appearance of the Monk Reunion Band, a vivid recreation of the stellar big band led by legendary pianist Thelonious Monk in 1959 and 1964. Not so original, but a sure crowd-pleaser. Hall Overton’s original arrangements did an excellent job at bringing out the rich possibilities in Monk’s tricky harmonies, and this group’s organizer, trumpeter Don Sickler, is wisely sticking to them. The band features a handful of greats who played with Monk in this setting: alto saxophonist Phil Woods, soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy, tenor saxophonist Harold Land, trombonist Eddie Bert, tubaist Howard Johnson, and drummer Ben Riley. The lineup’s rounded out by trumpeter Jack Walrath, bassist David Williams, and pianist Ronnie Matthews.
Personnel and set times are subject to change.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Daniel Miller/Michael Jackson/Robert Zuckerman/Joseph Blough/Jimmy Katz/Dorothy Darr/Agostino Mela/K. Abe.