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Downgrading an Old School

AACM 30th Anniversary Festival Getz Theater, December 1-3 Not all the music at the 30th anniversary celebration of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians was–to quote its motto–“great black music.” A lot of it was simply so-so. The three-night festival featured sets by 12 groups and aimed to provide an opportunity both to […]

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Right Time, Wrong Place

Chicago Jazz Festival Grant Park, September 2 The lineup for the second night of the jazz festival looked promising. Opening the evening would be the Chicago-based George Freeman Quartet, a bop-rooted group featuring the leader’s biting and lyrical electrical guitar sounds and his better-known brother Von, a towering tenor saxophonist, on piano. They’d be followed […]

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Let There Be Drums

Michael Zerang & Hamid Drake Lunar Cabaret, July 22 What’s left out of jazz can mean as much as what’s played. Listen to Miles Davis’s classic recording of “My Funny Valentine”: the spaces in his bittersweet solo tell as much as the notes. Sonny Rollins’s brilliant album A Night at the Village Vanguard, on which […]

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A Master’s Voice

Roscoe Mitchell’s New York-Detroit Connection HotHouse, June 10 From Louis Armstrong to Ornette Coleman, most of the major advances in jazz have been achieved by players in their 20s and 30s. But listening to elder statesman Roscoe Mitchell play rich and daring music makes me wonder what further surprises he has in store for the […]

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Beats and Bleats

Johnny Griffin Quartet Joe Segal’s Jazz Showcase, April 28 Ritual Trio With David Murray HotHouse, April 27 Jazz drummers talk back. In other musical styles the drummer’s role is important but fundamentally different than in jazz. A great rock or R & B drummer–like the Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts or the Hi Rhythm Section’s Howard […]

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Three’s Charm

Abdullah Ibrahim Trio HotHouse, February 10 Ethnic Heritage Ensemble HotHouse, February 16 The trio has been one of the most durable and versatile groupings in jazz. It’s served as a musical home for players ranging from the delicate pianist Bill Evans to the muscular tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins to the cutting-edge alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill. […]

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Jazz Tilt-A-Whirl

Von Freeman Jazz Showcase, January 13 and 14 Being a local legend can be a mixed bag. Consider Von Freeman, the 72-year-old tenor saxophonist who reigns as Chicago’s preeminent local jazz legend. In the 40s, he performed with bop genius Charlie Parker. In the 60s, Miles Davis tried to hire him as a replacement for […]

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Avant-Guardians

8 Bold Souls HotHouse, December 11 Today’s jazz scene is a battleground. Just ask Wynton Marsalis, the most influential figure in jazz, who recently described it that way in the New Yorker. As artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the 33-year-old trumpeter and composer has unprecedented opportunities to showcase the music through concerts, lectures, […]

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Singing Between the Lines

Sheila Jordan Green Mill, November 18 and 19 Whatever your image of a jazz singer, chances are Sheila Jordan doesn’t fit it. She’s not willowy, she’s not sultry, and she’s not black. She’s short and square, with pale skin and a wide toothy grin. Walking down Michigan Avenue at lunchtime, she could easily be mistaken […]

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All Together Now

EDWARD WILKERSON’S SHADOW VIGNETTES MANDEL HALL, NOVEMBER 5 These days a dreary familiarity hangs over music like a cloud. Rock is haunted by 60s relics like Clapton, the Dead, the Stones. Symphony orchestras almost never perform works by composers who have the occupational misfortune of being alive. And jazz, once associated with individuality and innovation, […]

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A Jazz Singer?

CASSANDRA WILSON PARK WEST, SEPTEMBER 23 Cassandra Wilson, who performed last Friday at Park West and is currently riding a wave of acclaim in the wake of last year’s Blue Note recording, Blue Light ’til Dawn, presents slippery questions of classification. Is she fundamentally a jazz singer who, like such revered figures as Billie Holiday, […]