Akenya Credit: Samantha Fuehring

In 2010 Adam Schatz, a New York musician who’s been one of the driving forces behind his city’s sprawling Winter Jazzfest, launched Round Robin, a program focused on free improvisation where musicians with disparate approaches and backgrounds improvise in a steady stream of five-minute duos. The evening begins with a solo performance by one of the participants, followed by a duet with the next musician, after which a new player turns up to relieve the musician who’s already been through a pair of duos. The voracious music-event programmers at Red Bull Music Academy embraced the concept, and since 2013 they’ve been presenting iterations of Round Robin all over the globe. This week they bring it to Chicago, and they’ve turned to Scottie McNiece of Chicago-born recording company International Anthem to choose the players. He selected 15 diverse musicians, producers, and spoken-word artists who either live here or have deep Chicago roots: reedists Roscoe Mitchell, Matana Roberts, and Angel Bat Dawid, guitarist Jeff Parker, singer/pianist/producer Akenya, Circuit des Yeux singer Haley Fohr, violist Whitney Johnson (aka Matchess), cellist Katinka Kleijn, poet Kevin Coval, drummers Makaya McCraven and JoVia Armstrong, trumpeter Ben Lamar Gay, bassist Matthew Lux, DJ the Twilight Tone, keyboardist Jaime Fennelly (Mind Over Mirrors), and interdisciplinary artist Lisa E. Harris. This lineup is undeniably broad, and it’s appealing to consider how folks from such different scenes will navigate new worlds. The pitfall of assembling a cast chosen more for diversity than compatibility or versatility is that in real time the collaborations can veer towards mediocrity, with parties working so hard to accommodate one another that they settle into a middling void. Here’s hoping that everyone will follow the lead of musicians like Mitchell, Roberts, and Parker, who never confuse accommodation with compromise.   v