By most accounts the biggest weekend of jazz in Chicago happened a few weeks ago, when the Chicago Jazz Festival took place. But the deluge of great jazz and improvised music this weekend looks awfully strong, leading to some unfortunate conflicts for those who enjoy live music. The marquee event is the Hyde Park Jazz Festival on Saturday and Sunday, but there are also Roscoe Mitchell’s two trio concerts at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Sunday and Matthew Shipp’s duo concert with bassist Michael Bisio Saturday at Constellation. That’s to say nothing of Ravi Coltrane’s engagement at the Jazz Showcase, singer Kurt Elling at the Green Mill tonight and tomorrow, up-and-coming drummer Jeremy Cunningham leading his quintet with Jeff Parker tonight at Constellation, and the trio of Edward Wilkerson, Jim Baker, and Steve Hunt Sunday night at the Owl. Choices, choices.
There are a lot of things worth seeing in Hyde Park, and I know there are two sets I won’t be missing. The trumpeter and composer Ambrose Akinmusire will perform the world premiere of his new suite Banyan with a horn-heavy 12-piece group that includes saxophonists Marcus Strickland and Walter Smith III, fellow trumpeter Jason Palmer (who impressed me with his recent work in Mark Turner’s band at the Chicago Jazz Fest), and trombonist Josh Roseman, among others. Akinmusire interviewed Rob Carter, Bertha Hope, Wayne Shorter, Charlie Persip, Archie Shepp, Bennie Maupin, and Henry Threadgill for the project, which is inspired by the significance of oral tradition in the history and development of jazz—a practice increasingly threatened by the often sterile confines of formal jazz education. Banyan will be played twice—at 3:30 and 5:15 PM at the Logan Center Performance Hall on Saturday.
Later that night the brilliant Chicago woodwinds master and composer Henry Threadgill—one of the musicians involved in the fantastic closing set at the Chicago Jazz Festival by Muhal Richard Abrams’s Experimental Band—will play duets with the remarkable Cuban pianist David Virelles (who happens to be in town with Coltrane at the Jazz Showcase; I assume he’s ducking out for the sets on Saturday). Threadgill’s excellent band Zooid recently released another knockout recording with the double CD In for a Penny, In for a Pound (Pi); Virelles released one of my favorite albums of 2014 with Mbókò (ECM), a fearless hybrid of traditional Afro-Cuban religious music, daring improvisation, and mutable structures. As much as improvisation plays a central role in those projects, I’m giddy to hear what the pair will devise in this new context (whether it’s totally free interactions or new compositions).
Yet another heavy hitter performing this weekend is Roscoe Mitchell, a reedist who never stops looking forward despite having achieved several lifetimes worth of artistic accomplishments. In typical fashion he’s presenting adventurous work on Sunday, playing two concerts, each featuring different trio configurations with a dazzling variety of players all inspired by his music. At 3 PM he’ll perform with veteran trumpeter and longtime cohort Hugh Ragin and sublime percussionist and composer Tyshawn Sorey, as well as pianist Craig Taborn and the mercurial, spazzy percussionist Kikanju Baku (who seems determined to mask his face in every photo I’ve seen of him). The 7:30 concert features reedist and electronics experimenter James Fei and percussionist Willie Winant and another trio with the Detroit rhythm section of Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal. It’s remarkable that four discrete sets still won’t convey the full diapason of Mitchell’s vibrant art. These concerts were programmed in conjunction with the museum’s terrific exhibition “The Freedom Principle,” which, in part, looks at the crucial contributions and influence of the AACM, of which Mitchell remains a key member. Between 1-2 PM on Saturday, Mitchell will talk about his work within the AACM and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, and he’ll also give a demonstration of the stunning Percussion Cage he designed that’s in the exhibition.
Stefano Bollani, Joy in Spite of Everything (ECM)
Ron Miles, Circuit Rider (Enja/Yellowbird)
David Weiss, When Words Fail (Motema)
Fartein Valen, On the Path to His Modernism (Simax Classics)
Bunny “Striker” Lee & Friends, Next Cut (Pressure Sounds)