Nick Mazzarella
Nick Mazzarella Credit: Kate Joyce

JAZZ | Peter Margasak

It’s hard to listen This Is Only a Test, the new live album by alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella, and not think of Ornette Coleman. The opening lick of the title track sounds suspiciously like the opening lick from Coleman’s “The Fifth of Beethoven,” cut 41 years ago with his classic quartet, and Mazzarella, 27, doesn’t deny the influence. “Ornette is like a primary source,” he says. “He planted his flag on something very fundamental, like Monk did, and it’s hard to get close to the territory he staked out without becoming overshadowed by or raising the ghost of the original man.”

Listen to the whole album, though, and it becomes clear that Mazzarella—whose excellent trio with bassist Anton Hatwich and drummer Frank Rosaly recorded the album live at the Hungry Brain last May—is doing much more than evoking Coleman. He’s been listening to jazz since he was ten, beginning with classics from his father’s collection (Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker) and progressing to John Coltrane, particularly Newport ’63, in high school. “That record really changed things for me,” he says. “It gave me a palpable sense of what my instrument could do and what a human being could express through improvisation.” The Woodridge native didn’t fall for Coleman till he was earning his bachelor’s in music at DePaul.

He graduated in 2006, then returned the following year for a master’s, by which time he was a regular at concerts presented by Umbrella Music. Soon he enlisted Hatwich and Rosaly, key figures in that community, to play in his trio; on This Is Only a Test, the group’s second album together, the two of them keep a tight rein on the songs, maintaining a lithe, crisp drive. Many of Mazzarella’s compositions borrow Coleman’s ebullient, jaunty melodicism, but he often changes the mood when he takes an extended solo—his dark, visceral phrasing and strident tone recall fire breathers like Pharoah Sanders and Albert Ayler.

When Mazzarella isn’t playing a horn, he’s often fixing one. He apprentices at a shop in Downers Grove called BandSource, repairing reed and brass instruments, and he says he once did some emergency work on Josh Berman’s cornet in the back of the Hungry Brain. As a sideman Mazzarella plays with Frank Rosaly’s Green and Gold, a band dedicated to the music of Prince Lasha and Sonny Simmons, and in August he played in Rob Mazurek’s Exploding Star Orchestra for the group’s Whistler residency.

The Mazzarella trio celebrates the release of This Is Only a Test with two sets at the Hideout on Tue 10/5. The group also performs at Elastic on Fri 11/4 during this year’s Umbrella Music Festival.

FILM & MUSIC | Kevin Warwick

The Backyard Film & Music Fest moves indoors

Believe it or not, the Backyard Film & Music Fest was once actually held in a backyard. For the inaugural installment in 2008, fest organizer and local filmmaker Fred Koschmann projected two short documentaries onto a makeshift screen (aka a white bedsheet) in his yard. But the fest has ballooned each year and now requires a larger venue . . . or two. On Sat 10/1, the Wicker Park Arts Center (2215 W. North) will host the film portion of the event; later that day the Viaduct Theatre (3111 N. Western) will handle the music and partying. From 2 to 6 PM the WPAC will screen short films from 16 local, national, and international filmmakers—including an obscure 1942 silent documentary called Wheels From the Arctic that follows Koschmann’s great-uncle John Logan and professional adventurer Slim Williams on a 1939 off-road motorcycle trip from Fairbanks to Seattle, which helped establish the route for the Alaska Highway. (It screens at 5:30 with live musical accompaniment from locals Judson Claiborne; bandleader Chris Salveter says his score was inspired by Neil Young’s soundtrack work for Dead Man.) The judges will be The Weathered Underground codirector Bill Siegel, Time Out Chicago film writer A.A. Dowd, and Independent Television Service programming manager Karim Ahmad. After the screenings, doors open at 9 PM at the Viaduct for San Francisco singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman, New York-via-Pittsburgh beats-and-samples project Wise Blood, and local hip-hop activists BBU. Tickets to both the film and music events are $20; the screening alone is $10 (18+), the show $15 (21+).

FESTIVALS | Leor Galil

On Sat 10/1 Schubas hosts a hybrid record fair and barbecue it’s calling “Pig, Swig and Record Dig” from 11 AM to 4 PM. Local record stores and labels will sell CDs and LPs (and Sailor Jerry will pour rum on the cheap) while the venue’s chefs roast a whole pig.

According to promotions director Jud Eakin, the success of Schubas’ June Bike Bash—at which local bike shops gave repair demos and workshops and did tune-ups—inspired the venue’s planning staff to come up with other ways to use the space during the daytime. The original plan was to put together a flea market for all sorts of music-related odds and ends, including screen-printed posters from gigs at Schubas and Lincoln Hall.

Schubas hasn’t hosted a pig roast before, but its staff has the expertise; the venue’s restaurant, the Harmony Grill, offers plenty of pork-related fare, and chef Matt Hogan worked a number of pig roasts before he started at Schubas about a month ago. Eakin hopes the event’s vendors will approach it with the same desire to try something new: “I’ve been encouraging people to bring the weird odds and ends that you don’t usually see in a record store,” he says.