Although saxophonist Francis Wong lives in the San Francisco area–where he cofounded the musicians’ cooperative Asian Improv Arts–he holds a special place in his heart for Chicago. As explained to this writer for the liner notes for his new album of duets with Chicago bassist Tatsu Aoki, the Chicago-based Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians provided both inspiration and example for Wong’s organizational efforts. “So many great musicians have gone through Chicago; there’s such a sense of history,” he says. That lineage came to include Wong when he made his first visit to the midwest–playing the 1994 Chicago Jazz Festival as part of Jon Jang’s Pan-Asian Arkestra–and the importance of this event in Wong’s development is mirrored in the title of the new album, Chicago Time Code (Asian Improv Records). One could well have expected visions of the East in this meeting between the Japanese-born Aoki and the Sino-American Wong–both of whom have explored their heritage in previous albums of their own. In fact, though, the widely varied duets that make up the repertoire stem not from the Asian music tradition, but instead reflect the landscape of subtle possibilities that postfreedom improvisation affords its more capable practitioners. Wong plays without pretense, meeting the music head-on and finding a central serenity, sometimes in the midst of stormy surroundings. He keeps much of his power in reserve, but when the music calls for it he can answer with passionate split tones or explosive bursts of high-power melody. He also plays flute, bringing to the instrument a wonderful combination of steely strength (in his tone) and ancient grace, and occasionally incorporating techniques borrowed from Japanese shakuhachi players. In Chicago Wong will perform with Aoki and others in groups ranging from duo to quintet. His appearance celebrates the release of Chicago Time Code; it also marks the midpoint of the Bop Shop’s Asian-American Jazz Players Series, which continues each Sunday through Thanksgiving weekend. Sunday, 8 PM, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

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