By the early 80s Chick Corea had already established himself as one of the most distinctive and influential pianists–and arguably the signal jazz composer–of the last quarter century. And his current band, a three-horn sextet called Origin, is one of the two or three best groups he’s ever led. It features one potential superstar, bassist Avishai Cohen, whose 1998 debut, Adama (Stretch), showed off his colorful writing as much as his bas-relief accompaniment; one busy young lion, saxist and flutist Steve Wilson, who last year released a convincing album of his own on Stretch and graced Dave Holland’s Grammy-nominated album Points of View; and two respected journeymen, woodwinds man Bob Sheppard and trombonist Steve Davis. Corea has turned these hardly household names into his own personal dream team. He’s taken advantage of the versatile reedmen (whose axes include clarinets, flutes, and the three major saxes) to craft snazzy arrangements of not only his own tunes but also bop anthems by Monk and Parker. On the latter, Davis’s rounded tones provide the only brass, giving the tunes more depth than edge. The band’s strengths–its variety of soloists and willingness to become immersed in the material–are better served by the seemingly extravagant six-CD set it released in the fall, A Week at the Blue Note (Stretch), than by the single-disc edit of that material, Origin, that came out several months earlier. On the bill with Origin this weekend is saxophonist Chico Freeman’s promising new Latin band, Guataca–and the combination makes this show the probable highlight of Symphony Center’s big-name jazz series this season. I haven’t heard the Freeman group play yet, but the lineup reads like a quien es quien of Latin jazz in the 90s: pianist Hilton Ruiz, who since the mid-80s has supplied the prototype for musicians equally at home with Latin rhythms and straight jazz; the marvelous Brazilian bassist and composer Santi Debriano; percussionist Bobby Sanabria, whose 1993 album ÁN.Y.C. Ache! (Flying Fish) danced on a plush carpet of scintillating rhythms; and Giovanni Hidalgo, who on a bad night is still one of the five best conga players in jazz. And Freeman, son of Chicago legend Von Freeman, has undergone a renaissance in his own playing. In his last two Chicago Jazz Festival appearances, his solos, rhythmic drive, and even his tone had a fresh sparkle, reminiscent of his recordings from the 80s but bursting with the lessons he’s learned since about risk and structure. Friday, 8 PM, Orchestra Hall, Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan; 312-294-3000 or 800-223-7114.


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