You’d think a guy who’s spent a winter or two in Chicago would see the sense in staying south for the holidays. But saxist Ed Petersen, who moved to bayou country in the mid-90s, braves the elements every year to hook up with his friend and mentor Von Freeman in what’s become a yuletide tradition. Billed as a “Battle of the Saxes,” this meeting of like minds is anything but: it’s collegial and playful, an embodiment of the players’ mutual respect and admiration. At this point, Freeman needs no introduction; since last year, when he turned 80, the city’s named a street after him and both the Chicago Jazz Festival and Symphony Center have hosted tributes. Remarkably, he plays better now–louder, stronger, with longer yet more concise solos–than he did a decade ago. On his next disc, due in early 2004, he plays with a trio of New York peers that includes drummer Jimmy Cobb and demonstrates that he can still surprise even his most ardent fans. Petersen, now an associate professor of music at the University of New Orleans, is a stinging soloist who always seems to rise to the occasion: when he plays with Freeman, he’s like an aerialist who, for the hell of it, has decided to sprint the high wire instead of just walking it. The 1999 recording Von & Ed (which features the same rhythm section they’ll use this weekend) captures much of their camaraderie, but four Christmases later, the music has gotten tighter and yet more elastic, with single tunes sometimes stretching out for 30 minutes. With Willie Pickens on piano, Brian Sandstrom on bass, and Robert Shy on drums. Friday, December 26, 9 PM, and Saturday, December 27, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Petersen plays the same venue on New Year’s Eve with the Kurt Elling Quartet.

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