• Shahzad Ahsan
  • Ben Paterson

December is usually one of the quietest months of the year on the concert calendar, but for jazz fans this weekend presents a dizzying variety of excellent live-music choices. Considering the upcoming holiday drought, it might be a good idea to do gorge yourself a bit, chipmunklike. The options range from a sleek, straight-ahead piano trio to an adventurous saxophone choir, with numerous stops in between.

Keyboardist Ben Paterson moved to Chicago from his native Philadelphia in 2004 and he quickly established himself as a major force in mainstream hard bop (often working with the great Von Freeman), both as a tasteful pianist and a bluesy organist, but in late 2012 he left town, jumping into the fray of the fierce New York scene. He does return to town now and again—he led his excellent organ quartet at this year’s Chicago Jazz Festival—and plays the 5 PM set at Andy’s Friday and Saturday in celebration of his fine new album, Essential Elements (MaxJazz). Like so many others who’ve left Chicago, Paterson has maintained connections with local musicians, and these gigs will reunite him with the deft rhythm section that joins him on the recording: drummer Jon Deitemyer and bassist Joshua Ramos. In the pianist’s brief liner notes he spells it all out concisely: “My goal for this disc is simply to offer a recording which captures the three elements that first attracted me to jazz: a strong sense of swing, a commitment to melodic improvisation, and a healthy dose of the blues.” There’s not a whole lot more to the album than those things its title refers to, and in the end, that’s more than enough.

Paterson opens the album with interpretations of some modern pop tunes (Stevie Wonder’s “Golden Lady” and the Beatles ballad “Here, There, and Everywhere”) but most of the pieces are originals that hark back to the crisp swing of 50s piano jazz—brisk, deep, and lithe. (He also tackles pieces by Keith Jarrett and Ray Charles, and makes hay of standards “I Should Care” and “I’ve Never Been in Love Before.”) Deitemyer and Ramos prove simpatico partners, bringing a springy energy and economy to the performances, and while the pianist doesn’t seem especially interested in innovation, his elegance, good taste, and emotional poignancy position him as one the most refreshing mainstream voices I’ve heard in recent years. I don’t know what New York will do to his aesthetic, but the playing on Essential Elements is pure Chicago in its bullshit-free eloquence and grace. Below you can check out his typically bright and buoyant “Around the Block.”


  • Austin Nelson
  • Dave Douglas

Trumpeter Dave Douglas has made quite a splash with his latest quintet, which released its second album in a year back in April. Time Travel (Greenleaf) was cut at the same time as its predecessor, Be Still— which prominently featured the singing of the excellent progressive-bluegrass vocalist Aoife O’Donovan—but this all-instrumental effort resides more firmly in modern-jazz territory. Douglas has always assembled superb bands, and this one—peopled with musicians a generation younger than himself—is no exception. Drummer Rudy Royston, pianist Matt Mitchell, and bassist Linda Oh shape the leader’s attractive postbop compositions with dynamic precision—giving the front line of Douglas and tenor saxophonist Jon Irabagon loads to work with, and prodding them on with their own spontaneous displacements, jabs, and accents. But just as rewarding is when the group is engaged in a common pursuit—the leader’s extended solo on the gorgeous, pensive “Law of Historical Memory” is a knockout, with Irabagon providing masterful, sporadic shading and Mitchell casting an entrancing mood with his meticulously organized solo and pitch-perfect comping.

Below you can check out one of the album’s most extroverted pieces, “Beware of Doug,” which sounds a bit like vintage Cannonball Adderley on uppers. Time Travel was released as a stand-alone album, but it was also part of a nifty package summing up the current spurt the trumpeter has been on. The box set DD|50 (Greenleaf) marks the horn man’s 50th birthday and collects Be Still, Time Travel, Pathways—a wonderful sextet album, only available here, marking the end of the trumpeter’s tenure as director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music, with bassist Oh, reedist Gregory Tardy, trombonist Josh Roseman, pianist Uri Caine, and drummer Clarence Penn—and a DVD capturing in-studio performance from both of those bands. The band headlines the Green Mill on Friday and Saturday.

  • Frank Rosaly
  • Keefe Jackson

Earlier this year reedist Keefe Jackson released one of the year’s most daring and accomplished albums with A Round Goal (Delmark), credited to his band Likely So—an all-reed septet with Chicagoans Mars Williams and Dave Rempis surrounded by Europeans Waclaw Zimpel, Marc Stucki, Peter A. Schmid, and Thomas K.J. Mejer. The album was recorded live at the Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland, and the international cast made it unlikely that the lineup can be reconvened with any frequency. So Jackson has put together a Chicago version to play the music Saturday night at Constellation—with the leader, Williams, and Rempis joined by James Falzone, Guillermo Gregorio, Jeff Kimmel, and Nick Mazzarella. Jackson has long been one of the city’s most thoughtful and satisfying soloists, a guy with a deep understanding of jazz’s moving parts, yet one whose improvisations refuse to use boilerplate tactics. His playing is less fiery and extroverted than many of his Chicago counterparts, but that restraint is balanced by a rigor, intelligence, and genuine sense of surprise that’s a rarer commodity in these parts. Still, until recently his skills as a composer and bandleader lagged well behind his abilities as an improviser. That imbalance has been fully erased. You can check out the opening section of the album-length suite in a post I wrote in September. The double bill also features pianist Paul Giallorenzo’s killer quintet GitGo with Williams, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bassist Anton Hatwich, and drummer Quin Kirchner. The group is working out new material in preparation for its third album together.

Finally, the weekend is also packed with activities marking the tenth anniversary of the passing of the bandleader, arranger, trombonist, and educator Bill Russo—known best for his work under Stan Kenton and for establishing the Chicago Jazz Ensemble. Tonight at 6 PM there is a free screening of the 1975 John and Faith Hubley watercolor animation Everybody Rides the Carousel, for which Russo composed and arranged the score and conducted the band, which included Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter, at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema. On Saturday afternoon Reader theater critic Albert Williams will moderate a panel discussion—also free—at the Columbia College Music Department, between 2 and 5 PM. The discussion will touch upon Russo’s role in Chicago’s off-Loop theater scene in addition to his work in jazz. Speakers include musicians Corky Siegel, Lee Konitz, and Orbert Davis, actress Kate Buddeke, and writers Don Rose and Ron Dorfman. Finally, on Saturday, a concert celebrating Russo by the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble with featured soloist Konitz (a cohort of Russo’s in Kenton’s band) along with Siegel and Davis happens at the Jazz Showcase at 8 PM. The school’s jazz ensemble will also perform with Konitz tonight and Sunday, but the focus won’t be exclusively on Russo. I find it a little odd that the school that effectively smothered a big part of Russo’s legacy, when it put the Chicago Jazz Ensemble on ice last year, is mounting this tribute, but in any case, the salute is well deserved.

Today’s playlist:

Guelewar, Touki Ba Banjul: Acid Trip From Banjul to Dakar (Kindred Spirit)
Sir John Barbirolli, English String Music (EMI)
Watershed, Watershed (Rogue Art)
Sandy Bull, Still Valentine’s Day 1969 (Water)
Fagner, Ave Noturna (Discobertas)