George Burns!—the title of George Freeman’s new CD on the local Southport label—does more than capture the goofy charm of the jazz album titles of the 1950s. The pun also shouts out the link between Freeman’s otherworldly guitar playing and the humor of the classic comedian who, in conflating on-screen and offscreen action on his mid-50s television program, did more to seed the vast wasteland with honest-to-goodness surrealism than anyone except Ernie Kovacs. (And I’m guessing that more than a few listeners have reacted to Freeman’s off-kilter virtuosity by thinking, if not actually exclaiming, “Oh, God!”) Freeman plays with the same deceptive iconoclasm as his older brother, the great tenor saxophonist Von: you don’t realize just how quirky he is until he’s already hooked you with his chops and spirit. Like Von, George borrows tonally from prebop icons (in his case Charlie Christian and the electric blues players) and linguistically from the boppers. The resultant style seems at once frozen in time—specifically in the transition period between swing and bop, where giants like Christian and saxists Gene Ammons and Don Byas roamed—and utterly fresh, thanks to the Freeman family values of gentle mischief, wacky allusion, and timbral distortion. George can heave a solo from conventional to satisfyingly bizarre at a moment’s notice, with his overripe tone doing the heavy lifting. George Burns! is a terrific showcase for this aspect of his playing, as well as for his rubber-wristed strumming, his pure blues melodies, and his marvelously inventive comping on two vocal tracks. At this record-release party, he’ll be backed by the album’s spirited and soulful rhythm section—pianist Lou Gregory, bassist Eldee Young, and drummer Phil Thomas—along with the various special guests you’d expect at any party celebrating anything having to do with Southport. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/B.P. Sparrow.