For a minute there it looked like alto saxist Donald Harrison might move to Chicago: when he appeared at last year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, his native New Orleans was still underwater, and Harrison told me that (a) he’d lost pretty much everything and (b) he’d always liked Chicago a lot. Though he didn’t end up relocating, the feeling’s mutual. Harrison’s bubbling-gumbo tone has the combination of soul and acerbity that has long distinguished Chicago’s best saxists, like Von Freeman and Eddie Harris and even Joseph Jarman; he’s become one of the most reliable visiting crowd-pleasers, with a soaring lyricism offset (but not replaced) by contemporary techniques. Harrison didn’t reach his usual heights on his most recent release, New York Cool: Live at the Blue Note (Halfnote), a trio recording featuring two superstars from an earlier generation, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Cobham. But that album’s predecessor, 2005’s Free Style (Nagel Heyer), gives a better sense of what to expect at these shows. On it, Harrison uses a full quartet, which for my money suits him better; the piano rounds out the squinch in his tone, and he’s especially adept at playing his lines off chordal accompaniment. For this gig he’ll use a Chicago rhythm section headed by the redoubtable pianist Willie Pickens, whose 75th birthday celebration began last Friday with a tribute concert at the Museum of Science and Industry and continues with the release of two volumes of “sacred jazz,” both titled JazzSpirit, on Southport Records. Pickens loves dense, clustered harmonies and blunt rhythms, and Harrison can have a field day bouncing around in such an environment. See also Wednesday and Thursday; the group’s run lasts through Sunday, March 5. Tue 2/28, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand, 312-670-2473, $20.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.