A renaissance will always lure an audience; but organist/pianist Melvin Rhyne’s spirit and authority would draw a crowd even if he weren’t experiencing an international resurgence. In the last three years Rhyne has recorded several albums for the Dutch label Criss Cross (one of them featuring the young tenor sensation Joshua Redman) and appeared as a sideman on one or two others–his first recordings, as near as I can figure, since he made his name in the early 1960s with the trio led by guitarist Wes Montgomery. Rhyne’s organ playing presents a rather startling contrast to the florid splendor that characterizes the Jimmy Smith school of the Hammond B-3. Choosing to understate rather than exploit the instrument’s idiosyncrasies–for instance he avoids the more raucous tone settings in favor of the thin tones you’d expect to find in late-night lounges–Rhyne has arrived at a spare, thoughtful style. In most bands the organ sprawls across the stage, outflashing everything else, but in Rhyne’s hands it shrinks back to become another voice in the ensemble and gains a certain allure in the process. Rhyne’s approach would seem to translate well to the piano, which is the instrument he will in fact play this week when he accompanies singer Jackie Allen. (The two first worked together when Allen lived in Milwaukee, Rhyne’s home for the last 22 years.) Allen, who exploits the middle ground between jazz and cabaret singing to especially good advantage, will surprise you with her expressive power: it wells up from her outwardly placid demeanor and can swing the music clear out to the back wall. Their sets help mark the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s 17th annual Jazz Fair, which this writer helped organize and program. Monday, 9:30 PM, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-1676.

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