Dave Burrell Credit: Geert Vandepoele

The only time I’ve seen wild jazz pianist Dave Burrell play live was in an odd setting for him—he joined free-jazz bass titan William Parker for a program called “The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield” at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2009. The ensemble also included drummer and musical polymath Hamid Drake and writer Amiri Baraka, who provided spoken-word interpretations of the lyrics. It definitely wasn’t your typical set of Mayfield covers, and it was likewise peculiar watching Burrell rein in his avant-garde tendencies to accommodate the simple, melodic piano lines on some of Mayfield’s best-loved anthems. But then it happened—Burrell suddenly cut loose. With his arms raised and flailing, he came down hard and fast—perhaps with an elbow or two—on those formerly tinkling ivories. This was the Burrell I knew and loved—the musician who committed to record one of the most fearsome and chaotic jazz sessions ever with the monumental 1969 LP Echo. Raised in Ohio, where at an early age he became enamored with jazz pianists (especially Jelly Roll Morton), Burrell studied his craft at the University of Hawaii and the Berklee College of Music before moving to New York. At age 25 he joined three impressive, heavy-hitting ensembles led respectively by jazz greats Pharoah Sanders, Marion Brown, and Archie Shepp. By 1968 he was leading his own groups, and a decade later he composed the jazz opera Windward Passages in collaboration with his wife, Swedish writer Monica Larsson. Though Burrell will turn 80 this year, he shows few signs of slowing down. In 2019 he played a Swiss festival with Parker plus some solo shows in Philadelphia and released the live recording 1.11.18 on the Otoroku label. For this special gig, Burrell will be joined by two local heroes: bassist Joshua Abrams (of the Natural Information Society) and the aforementioned Hamid Drake (of so many projects it ain’t funny). This is the first set Burrell has led in Chicago since 2015, and the one before that was in 2003—so miss this legend showing off his stuff at your own free-jazzin’ peril.   v