One reason the jazz scene in Chicago is so exciting these days is that musicians frequently get the opportunity to work out new material in extended live engagements. In the last decade groups like the Ritual Trio, 8 Bold Souls, and the Vandermark 5 have used low-pressure weekly gigs to sharpen new originals and develop fresh ideas. Saxophonist Fred Anderson’s Velvet Lounge has become an important incubator for AACM-related groups over the last few years, and now reedist Ari Brown is using Thursdays at the club (at least through February) to refine material for his next album, due later this year on Delmark. His performances have been very loose, often featuring set-length improvisations. Anderson, 8 Bold Souls’ Ed Wilkerson and Mwata Bowden, Thaddeus Expose, and David Boykin are among the musicians who’ve sat in with Brown so far; last week he was supported by bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Avreeayl Ra (who played on Brown’s 1996 solo debut, Ultimate Frontier). The trio’s first set veered from volcanic eruptions of free blowing–during which Ra was almost too explosive–to contemplative bluesy vamps. It was certainly uneven, but the excitement of watching three immensely talented musicians search for common ground usually outweighed the problems. Brown is a terrific saxophonist with a deep understanding of both bop’s complex rhythms and the wild expressionism of free jazz; and though he often retreated into a supporting role, there was no question who was in charge. Thursdays, 9 PM, Velvet Lounge, 2128 1/2 S. Indiana; 312-791-9050. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Nathan Mandell.