Ken McIntyre’s music is steeped in the bop tradition, but his association with players like Eric Dolphy (on McIntyre’s 1960 debut, Looking Ahead) and Cecil Taylor (on the 1966 album Unit Structures) accurately indicates his experimental impulses. Unfortunately, his decision to pursue a teaching career in 1961 didn’t allow for much documentation of his work–regular gigs with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and some straight-ahead albums for Steeplechase Records constitute the bulk of his public activity for the last few decades. But in 1995 he retired from teaching and has since attained a slightly higher profile; his Chicago gigs this week come relatively close on the heels of his 1997 visit. One of his regular collaborators these days is violinist Jason Kao Hwang–a partnership that harks back to McIntyre’s adventurous 1963 album ‘Way, ‘Way Out (reissued a few years ago on Blue Note’s The Complete United Artists Sessions set, which has already gone out of print), where he paired his restrained, slightly off-kilter attack with mournfully oblique string arrangements. The strings didn’t so much sweeten or cushion McIntyre’s playing–on flute, alto saxophone, and also oboe, an oddity in jazz then and now–as heighten the cool tension in his solos with mild harmonic dissonance. Although McIntyre and Hwang have worked together since the 80s in McIntyre’s Contemporary African American Music Orchestra, they’re only two years old as a duo, and as yet unrecorded. Hwang has also played with folks like Reggie Workman, Henry Threadgill, Jerome Cooper, and Lawrence “Butch” Morris, but his most fruitful project is the Far East Side Band, a daring quartet with Korean kayagum player Sang-Won Park, Japanese-born shakuhachi player Yukio Tsuji, and tubaist Joe Daley. On the album Urban Archaeology (Victo), Eastern sounds and textures meet Western improvisation styles–although the execution and Hwang’s mysterious, shape-shifting compositions are far more sophisticated than that shorthand suggests. McIntyre and Hwang play a free concert Saturday at 2 PM in the Claudia Cassidy Theater at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Hwang will give a free concert with cellist Fred Longberg-Holm on Sunday at 2 PM at the Renaissance Society, Cobb Hall, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis; 773-702-8670 or 312-666-4412. And McIntyre plays a rare solo set on a split bill with Frode Gjerstad (see separate Critic’s Choice) on Wednesday at 9:30 PM at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

Peter Margasak

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