Darren Johnston Credit: Julie Caine

Superb Bay Area trumpeter Darren Johnston has been a regular visitor to Chicago for nearly a decade, and over that time he’s fortified his connection to the local improvised music scene. Last year he dropped three recordings, two of them featuring Chicagoans. On Neutral Nation (Aerophonic), saxophonist Dave Rempis sparred with him and veteran Bay Area reedist Larry Ochs of the Rova Sax Quartet, unfurling high-energy improvisation in patient, gritty arcs. On Shipwreck 4 (No Business) former Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly joined Johnston in a west-coast quartet that also included bassist Lisa Mezzacappa and tenor saxophonist Aaron Bennett. They spontaneously created compositional shapes, moving fluidly between abstraction and groove, pure sound and melody. While in such contexts the trumpeter judiciously sprinkles in bits of extended technique, his gift lies in his lyric playing, where he always provides something easy to latch on to. My favorite of his recent albums, though, is Everybody’s Somebody’s Nobody (Clean Feed), an intimate series of duets with experimental guitarist Fred Frith that allows Johnston to explore his full range—by turns tender, melodic, sere, brittle, and plush, sometimes all at once. Tonight Johnston plays two sets with percussionist Tim Daisy, a regular collaborator during his trips here.   v