I don’t know whether pianist Joanne Brackeen snickers at all the latest punditry about “women in jazz,” but she’s certainly earned the right to–she’s been crashing one boys’ club after another since the late 60s. With a quirky musical intellect and oceanic command of the keyboard she’s persuaded some of jazz’s great chauvinists to overlook her gender, much as Mary Lou Williams did in the 30s and 40s: Brackeen is the only woman ever to play either in Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers or in Stan Getz’s quartet, and in the 70s she graced Joe Henderson’s band, opening the door for several jazzwomen to follow. Brackeen’s gigantic attack reveals her respect for McCoy Tyner, and her melodicism builds in part on Chick Corea’s; it’s proof of her ingenuity that she can recall these icons of modern jazz piano and still have one of the music’s most recognizable instrumental voices. In her sprawling solos she seems unable to settle into a rut rhythmically: she incorporates stutter-step phrasing, sudden quick-time flights, minor hesitations in the right hand, and outright displacements in the left with ease and wit, turning even a potential lull like the bossa nova standard “Wave” into a tsunami. The same fierce playfulness fuels her often tricky originals, which tend to carry titles as idiosyncratic as their melodies: “Beethoven Meets the Millennium in Spain,” for instance, is a gothic-salsa romp with an introduction lifted from the world’s most famous fifth symphony. Both those tunes appear on last year’s Pink Elephant Magic (Arkadia), which provided a wake-up call even for those of us who count ourselves Brackeen’s loyal fans, knitting together the strands of her considerable talent. It features contributions from Nicholas Payton and Dave Liebman, and earned a 1999 Grammy nomination for one of saxist Chris Potter’s solos–though Brackeen’s spin on the title track probably deserved a second. In Chicago she’ll dial down the volume, duetting with the lively bassist Ray Drummond, but I doubt that will dilute her power. Tuesday and Wednesday, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.


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