CHICAGO JAZZ ENSEMBLE
The value of repertory bands in jazz remains open to debate: in re-creating performances that were often improvised by other musicians in the first place, such outfits run up against the sacred cows of authenticity and innovation. But no matter where you stand on the issue, the Chicago Jazz Ensemble has fully established itself as an effective and often superb repertory orchestra. Much of its success stems from its willingness to perform larger works that exist primarily on disc, such as suites by Duke Ellington or the album-length Gil Evans-Miles Davis concerto Sketches of Spain, which the CJE pulled off at last year’s Jazz Festival. Friday’s presentation of the seven-movement suite Cuban Fire!, composed by Johnny Richards for the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the mid-50s, continues that trend. As the brainchild and ward of Bill Russo, the CJE has an almost inherent responsibility to do right by Kenton’s music; it was in his band that Russo rose to prominence as a composer and arranger in the early 50s. What makes this program even more promising is Russo’s special affection for the Afro-Cuban rhythms that infiltrated jazz in the 40s–the title of his best-known composition for Kenton, 23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West, refers to the latitude and longitude of Havana. Even though for this concert Russo will hand the baton to the CJE’s trumpet star Orbert Davis (making his conducting debut), his presence will surely be felt. In order to provide the full range of tonal colors and polyrhythmic activity demanded by the score, the CJE will expand to a Kentonian 28-piece lineup that features French horns, tuba, timpani, and five Latin percussionists (including the band’s resident expert in such rhythms, Alejo Poveda). This will be only the third public performance of the entire suite. The first half of the show serves up 23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West as an appetizer, along with several other pieces from Kenton’s repertoire. Friday, 7:30 PM, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, Northwestern University, 1977 South Campus Dr., Evanston; 847-467-4000 or 312-461-9708. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by David K. Kamba.