DKV Trio

A simple superlative: DKV Trio is the best working band in Chicago jazz. That’s no small feat considering that its members work in a lot of other combinations. Assembled in 1994 by reedman Ken Vandermark specifically for his recording project Standards (Quinnah), the group forged an instant bond that mandated further investigation. Drummer Hamid Drake never fails to provide a spark, and when he and bassist Kent Kessler get on the good foot you can expect a bonfire. Where many free groups avoid funky, swinging, or melodic materials, DKV eagerly embraces them. The trio’s open-ended, sometimes set-length improvisations unfold in sections: Drake and Kessler might set up a cyclical groove for Vandermark to dive into or soar above, then an insistent bass clarinet ostinato might free up the bassist to take one of his superb arco solos, after which Drake might suddenly kick out a Max Roach high-hat jam or hit the ground running with some infectious Afro-pop polyrhythms or reggae snare-centricity. All three players are respectful listeners, creating space and letting the music breathe but challenging each other as well. Kessler benefits greatly from this simultaneous relaxation and prodding, turning in consistently original performances. And Vandermark, already well-known as a firebrand, is quickly emerging as one of the finest young balladeers to tote a tenor. This setting allows him ample room to dip deep into both bags. Each time out, DKV invents a new context where daring exploration and pure corporeal pleasure shake hands and get down to business. Friday, 10 PM, Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood; 773-465-8005. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo by Marty Perez.