Since relaunching his label the Sirens six years ago, Steven B. Dolins has been feverishly redressing some of the injustices that have affected a handful of Chicago’s finest musicians. Thanks to his efforts the discography of folks like Erwin Helfer, Geraldine Gay, and Earma Thompson have expanded significantly. This week he’s been celebrating the release of two new titles with some gigs at Katerina’s. Last night gospel pianist Gay and her brother Donald, who’s a fine if slightly mannered singer, played in honor of their new Soulful Sounds, while tonight Thompson is joined by saxophonists Ari Brown and John Brumbach, bassist Yosef Ben Israel, and drummer William “Bugs” Cochran to officially launch Madam Queen.
A few years ago the label released Thompson’s superb duo album Just in Time—astonishingly, the first album under her own name—and it was a gorgeous time capsule of jazz history, where boogie-woogie, bebop, swing, and the blues all happily coexist. Thompson attended the storied DuSable High School, where her classmates included Von Freeman, Clifford Jordan, Johnny Hartman, and Dorothy Donegan. Madam Queen is also a good record, although the quintet setting relegates the pianist to a support role, which she handles nimbly much of the time. The music is more specific in its focus than the debut, zeroing in on gently but sturdily swinging bop turf, with takes on tunes by Ellington, Lee Morgan, and Gene Ammons, an old pal of Thompson’s. The two saxophonists do a typically fine job, but frankly I’d sure like to hear the pianist in another stripped-down setting. Then again, beggars can’t be choosers.
Tonight’s performance starts at 10 PM; cover is $10.
Ernan Roch, Con Las Voces Frescas (Discos Mariposa)
Lucas Niggli Zoom Meets Arte Quartett, Crash Cruise (Intakt)
Bat for Lashes, Fur and Gold (Caroline/Echo)