When tenor saxist Michael Brecker left Horace Silver’s band in 1974, his replacement was Bob Berg, and you really can’t beat that for symbolism. Brecker’s huge metallic sound, piston-driven technique, ground-zero intensity, and enduring fascination with harmonic permutations inspired by the middle period of John Coltrane’s career now constitute the template for an entire school of modern tenor men. And from this group, Bob Berg has emerged as first among equals. (If a wiggy San Francisco vocal quartet hadn’t already taken the name the Bobs, it would be tailor-made for a three-tenor album matching Berg with fellow Brecker-like saxists Bob Malach and Bob Mintzer.) Berg played straight-ahead tenor with Silver and then fusion foil to Miles Davis after the trumpeter’s 1984 renaissance, and in each case found an outlet for his take-no-prisoners approach: when he solos, the space most saxists would leave empty becomes the perfect spot to squeeze in yet another brilliantly constructed aside, even as the main line zips foward with unflagging precision. It’s an approach to the tenor sax that in most players’ hands leaves me impressed but cold; and despite the occasional tender impulse Berg has displayed on recent albums, his music probably will never boast a broad spectrum of emotions. But he has taken to reworking jazz standards with imagination and verve, and several original compositions have crept toward moods he once avoided. Sometimes his staggering command of his craft simply overwhelms the traditional dichotomy between technique and content–and when that happens, Berg’s gigantic virtuosity actually justifies its own existence. Berg brings to town his own high-octane quartet, with pianist David Kikoski, bassist Ed Howard, and drummer Gary Novak, a Highland Park native known for his exciting work in Chick Corea’s Elektric Band over the last several years. Under Berg’s leadership, they invest even acoustic jazz standards with the pummeling energy of classic electric fusion. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, March 8, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Armen Kachaturian.