You won’t find a busier saxophonist in Chicago than Mars Williams, thanks to the array of projects he leads apart from his main gig. But while the world at large knows him primarily through the successful Liquid Soul, his “acid jazz” (read: 60s soul funk) band, Williams’s heart lies among the shifting structures and raw textures of free jazz and its succeeding idioms. His desire to showcase this variety, which hints at the many modes of expression he commands, underlies Williams’s “Mars Attacks Mondays” series, through November at the Note. This week Williams presents his Sun Ra Project, featuring unrecorded compositions by the noted Saturnian-American composer that have been newly arranged by Ken Vandermark, Williams’s fellow postfreedom reedman and frequent partner. On October 13 Williams will reassemble the NRG Ensemble after a long dormancy. The group, originally led by the late multi-instrumentalist and musical satirist Hal Russell, included Williams’s sax for much of its existence; its legacy consists in large part of Russell’s off-the-wall conceptualism, which still lives in the new compositions by Williams and Vandermark. October 20 it’s Witches & Devils, the highly regarded rep band dedicated to the music of visionary avant-garde saxophonist Albert Ayler, and the month closes with Slam, a thrash-jazz quartet featuring guitarist Greg Suran of the Cupcakes. Kent Kessler plays bass fiddle on all the above dates, most of which feature familiar faces from the north-side new-music scene. It all goes to show that despite the rigors of leading Liquid Soul–which, as the president’s favorite acid jazz band, played the 1997 inauguration–there’s still life in Mars. As for his own improvising, Williams’s use of high-register screech tones can rival that of any other saxist for sheer wild woolliness, but he only occasionally sends it right over the top. Instead, the climaxes of his improvisations most often find him in a sort of ecstatic balance, two-stepping on the tightrope between anarchy and architecture. Mondays in October, 9 PM, the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 773-489-0011. The NRG Ensemble will also play next Friday, October 10, 10 PM, at the Bop Shop, 1164 S. Wabash, 312-922-3233, and Wednesday, October 22, 9 PM–in their annual “Hal the Weenie” Halloween tribute to Hal Russell–at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marty Perez.