William Parker, whose group In Order to Survive plays Saturday at the Hideout.

In 2012 the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events has made all kinds of blunders—shit-canning the Music Without Borders series, eliminating the majority of the live music at the Chicago Cultural Center for most of the year, allowing bureaucratic hokeypokey to compromise the World Music Festival—but it was smart enough to keep hosting European Jazz Meets Chicago, the mini fest that kicks off the annual Umbrella Music Festival. This year European Jazz Meets Chicago, featuring players from nine European countries alongside top-notch locals, is Wed 11/7 and Thu 11/8 at the Cultural Center, and the fest continues through Sun 11/11 with concerts at the three regular Umbrella Music venues: Elastic, which hosts improvised ­music on Thursdays; the Hideout, which hosts the Immediate Sound series on Wednesdays; and the Hungry Brain, which hosts the Transmission series on Sundays. Nearly every act is worth checking out—and if you’re curious to know which I’m most excited to hear, they’re the ones I’ve written about most lavishly in the complete schedule that follows.

Wednesday, November 7, Chicago Cultural Center, free

Clementine Gasser/Tim Daisy Duo

Cellist Clementine Gasser, born in Switzerland and based in Austria, plays with Chicago drummer Tim Daisy. Preston Bradley Hall, 6:30 PM

Dominykas Vysniauskas Quartet

Lithuanian trumpeter Dominykas Vysniauskas plays with three locals: alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Avreeayl Ra. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 7:15 PM

Angelika Niescier Trio

Angelika Niescier

Polish-born alto saxophonist Angelika Niescier has made her name in Germany over the past decade or so, most notably with a terrific quartet called Sublim that also includes pianist Florian Weber. Last year she took probably the biggest single aesthetic stride of her career with the fluid, hard-swinging, and exploratory trio album Quite Simply (Enja), cut with two Americans, bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Tyshawn Sorey. Niescier can leap from serene and contemplative to blazing and declamatory in a single bar, yet even at her most explosive she delivers her clean-tone lines with careful consideration. Her improvisations and written material display a touch of Steve Coleman’s rhythmic sophistication and tightly coiled architecture, and when she tackles Ornette Coleman’s “Congeniality” on Quite Simply it’s easy to her the bebop lilt she shares with both Colemans. For her Chicago debut Niescier will be joined by a limber Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassist Nate McBride and drummer Frank Rosaly. Randolph Street Cafe, 8 PM

Watershed

This fine transatlantic quintet combines a French rhythm section (drummer Denis Fournier and bassist Bernard Santacruz) and a trio of current and former Chicagoans (cellist Tomeka Reid, flutist Nicole Mitchell, and reedist Hanah Jon Taylor). The band’s brand-new self-titled debut for Rogue Art, which I’ve regrettably only been able to listen to once, ranges from focused, high-energy free jazz to meditative ballads such as the haunting “Prayer for Wadud,” which Reid wrote for mercurial cellist Abdul Wadud. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 8:45 PM

Thursday, November 8, Chicago Cultural Center, free

Artur Majewski Quartet

Polish trumpeter Artur Majewski—best known as half of Wroclaw-based duo Mikrokoletyw—plays with an extra-strength Chicago rhythm section consisting of bassists Joshua Abrams and Harrison Bankhead and drummer Steve Hunt. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 6:30 PM

Jacques Demierre/Jim Baker Duo

Shape-shifting Swiss pianist Jacques Demierre plays with pianist and ARP wizard Jim Baker, who’s more or less his Chicago counterpart. Preston Bradley Hall, 7:15 PM

Daniele D’Agaro Quartet

Italian reedist Daniele D’Agaro returns to Chicago after a long absence, working with three locals: drummer Mike Reed, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, and bassist Jason Roebke. Randolph Street Cafe, 8 PM

Sven-Ake Johansson

It’s hard to know where to begin with Swedish percussionist and polymath Sven-Ake Johansson: Is he a bebop drummer? A visual artist? A Fluxus-style madman? Actually he’s all of the above and more, and over the decades (he’s lived in Berlin since 1968) he’s never confined himself to any single approach or discipline. Like many early exponents of European free jazz—he appears on key recordings by Peter Brötzmann, Manfred Schoof, and the Globe Unity Orchestra, among others—Johansson is rooted in bebop, and he’s continued to carry its torch in bands with adventurous musicians half his age (he plays with trumpeter Axel Dörner in the superb Cool Quartett, for instance). But he also acts or delivers texts with musical accompaniment—on the recent Für Paul Klee (Jazzwerkstatt), he recites the painter’s poems over music written by Johansson and his bandmates. He’s also adept at gestural free improvisation, as he proves on the 2012 trio album Grosse Gartenbauausstellung (Olof Bright), with Dörner and inside-the-piano tinkerer Andrea Neumann—he trades abstract squiggles and terse percussive statements with his partners’ stabs of sound. Over the years Johansson has made some classic solo percussion records, including 1972’s Schlingerland and 2010’s Cymbals in the Night (Broken Research), and he’ll also play solo here. It’s a context where his absurdist humor really shines through: I saw him give a solo concert in Vasteras, Sweden, in 2010, where he played his drum kit like a child tackling an outsize toy, combining ham-fisted mock amateurism and excited wonder. At one point he used cucumbers as drumsticks and pressed his cymbals into service as vegetable cutters—he scattered slivers of cucumber around the stage, then thoughtfully tasted a slice himself. Preston Bradley Hall, 8:45 PM

Cactus Truck

This wild improvising trio from Amsterdam is led by saxophonist John Dikeman, an American expat who belies his upbringing on the plains of Nebraska with a ferociously urban attack that takes the steamroller power of Peter Brötzmann and the duck-call squeals of early John Zorn as starting points and only gets more extreme from there. Electric guitarist Jasper Stadhouders is every bit Dikeman’s match in terms of volume and chaos, and drummer Onno Govaert stokes the band’s fires with spazzy rumbles and unflagging motion. Cactus Truck‘s furious energy on the recent Brand New for China! (Public Eyesore) suggests a European take on the no-holds-barred mayhem of Weasel Walter’s Flying Luttenbachers. Claudia Cassidy Theater, 9:30 PM

Friday, November 9, Elastic, $20

Darius Jones Trio

Galvanizing, adventurous New York saxophonist Darius Jones leads an excellent trio with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Jason Nazary, who also plays with Jones in the ferocious collective Little Women. 9 PM

Joe Morris

Joe MorrisCredit: Ralph Gibson

Joe Morris is one of the most distinctive and original guitarists in the history of jazz. A musician of rare focus and determination, he almost never plays chords, and his tone is austere, dry, and brittle. His long-form improvisations unfold slowly, even when the notes come in dizzying flurries. On Altitude (Aum Fidelity), a recent trio album with bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, he favors the electric guitar’s upper register, playing phrases so tightly clenched that they sometimes feel knotty; listen with wider ears, though, and they form generous, undulating arcs of sound. On the remarkable Singularity, a solo acoustic release from 2002, Morris sounds like a small African string ensemble: in one many wonderfully dense moments on the album, a rapid arpeggio gives way to a droning thrum, a single-string snap, and a delicate two-note melody. Trying to follow the threads—and figure out how Morris is playing them all—is enough to make your head swim. His zigzagging improvisations unfold coils of clean notes and damped-string half-tones, and his broken yet lyrical melodies sound like something from a shattered John Fahey record that’s been glued back together wrong. Morris gives a rare solo performance tonight. 10 PM

Chicago Underground Duo

Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek has been so busy with a slew of diverse projects—Sao Paulo Underground, Starlicker, Pulsar Quartet, Exploding Star Orchestra—that it’s easy to forget about his long-running duo with percussionist Chad Taylor, which got started in 1997 and helped first expose him to international audiences. Now that Taylor lives in New York, the Chicago Underground Duo doesn’t play out too often, but the recent Age of Energy (Northern Spy) proves that the band retains its vital multistylistic thrust. The album uses a lot of electronics (including electronically manipulated vocals on “It’s Alright”), but Taylor remains the band’s engine, playing acoustic drums and (on “Castle in Your Heart“) kalimba. Most of the songs hypnotize with swirling, cyclical rhythms, but on the title track Mazurek and Taylor rip it up old-school, with explosive free-jazz drumming and clarion-clear horn improvisations whose blaring frenzy doesn’t obscure their cogently structured melodies. 11 PM

Saturday, November 10, Hideout, $20, 21+

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet

Boston pianist and composer Pandelis Karayorgis formed this Chicago-based quintet—with bassist Nate McBride, drummer Frank Rosaly, and reedists Keefe Jackson and Dave Rempis—to play new music inspired by the classic Tony Williams album Spring, which also features Sam Rivers. But this sleek combo has its own sound, as it proved at its debut performance in January at Heaven Gallery. Rempis and Jackson’s divergent tones and styles make for a wonderful sweet-salty clash, and Karayorgis seems to have the influence of cooler pianists like Lennie Tristano and Herbie Nichols coursing through his blood, which gives the music a lot of space and dynamic contrast. The band’s debut album, Circuitous, is due in the spring from Hatology, and it promises to be one of 2013’s best. 9 PM

Adolphe’s Ax

Cameron Pfiffner, coleader of Green Mill mainstays Sabertooth, fronts this saxophone sextet; the lineup also includes Anthony Bruno, Nick Mazzarella, Caroline Davis, Nate Lepine, and Juli Wood. 10 PM

William Parker’s In Order to Survive

Brilliant free-jazz bassist William Parker combines driving improvisation with the fundamentals of hard bop in this scrappy band, which now includes pianist and instrument inventor Cooper-Moore. Trumpeter Lewis “Flip” Barnes and alto saxophonist Rob Brown form a potent front line, invested in the music’s past as thoroughly as they are in its future. The group’s regular drummer is the irrepressible Hamid Drake, who makes every group he plays with sound better, but for tonight’s gig he’ll be replaced by William Hooker, who has fewer technical resources and a blunter attack. 11 PM

Sunday, November 11, Hungry Brain, $15 suggested donation, 21+

Fred Van Hove

Fred Van HoveCredit: Gerard Rouy

Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove is a key avatar of European free jazz, and like Swedish percussionist Sven-Ake Johansson (who plays a solo concert on Thursday), he also appears on many important early recordings, including Peter Brötzmann’s game-changing 1968 album Machine Gun. Also like Johansson, he retains a profound engagement with earlier jazz styles: some of the pieces on The Complete Vogel Recordings (Unheard Music), a collection of Van Hove’s work from the early 70s, include thunderous boogie-woogie figures. Solo improvising has been part of his arsenal for more than four decades, and in that context he can get seriously heavy: his insistent left hand shapes ominous block chords, while his right plays stark shards of melody or splattery clusters of notes, with an emphasis on glassy dissonance and hammering intensity. This is Van Hove’s first local appearance since 1999. 9 PM

Harrison Bankhead Sextet

Bassist Harrison Bankhead has anchored countless Chicago groups over the years, including Edward Wilkerson Jr.’s 8 Bold Souls and the Indigo Trio, and last year he finally released his debut as a leader—the sublime sextet effort Morning Sun Harvest Moon (Engine), which mixed sharp writing and arrangements with extended passages of improvised group interplay. The band—reedist Wilkerson, saxophonist Mars Williams, violinist James Sanders, and percussionists Avreeayl Ra and Ernie Adams—doesn’t perform often enough for my tastes, and it’s sure to close this year’s festival on a high note. 10 PM