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John H. Armwood Jazz History Lecture Nashville's Cheekwood Arts Center 1989

Friday, September 03, 2010

Notable changes for Chicago Jazz Festival --

Notable changes for Chicago Jazz Festival --
The Chicago Jazz Festival just got bigger — physically, that is.
An event that always has been centered on the dilapidated Petrillo Music Shell in Grant Park has (finally) spread its wings, with multiple shows at the Chicago Cultural Center and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.
For those who like to actually hear the music, this comes as a welcome development.
So on Friday night, listeners can savor the sound of the brilliant Chicago flutist Nicole Mitchell leading her Black Earth Orchestra at the Pritzker, followed by a 75th birthday celebration for Chicago's Ramsey Lewis in the same glorious space. Not a bad way to kick off the weekend. As always, the fest will cater to every jazz taste, from leading vocalists such as Maggie Brown and Rene Marie (Saturday) to iconoclastic bandleaders such as Henry Threadgill and Brad Mehldau (Sunday). And for those who want to hear tomorrow's stars today, the best high school and college bands in the area will converge on the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Stage all weekend.
Every bit of it is free, making this the greatest jazz weekend of the year. By far.
7:10 p.m.: Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Orchestra, at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue. Flutist-composer Mitchell has become a force in her own right in Chicago, and her role as artist-in-residence for this year's Chicago Jazz Festival underscores the point. Of the multiple performances she'll be giving, though, this one holds pride of place, for she and her Black Earth Orchestra will play the world premiere of an evening-length work, "Arc of O." Scored for what amounts to a "double orchestra," the work will be more abstract and less narrative than her other recent large compositions, she says. It could mark a high point in a career that's already rapidly ascending.
12:15 p.m.: James Dapogny, "Art of the Solo," in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. Dapogny is that rarest of creatures: the musical scholar who also can play piano at a high professional level. Because he'll be working solo, listeners can expect to hear early-period classics in which Dapogny has specialized, most notably works of Jelly Roll Morton and James P. Johnson. Should be a feast.
1:45 p.m.: AACM Experimental Ensemble, in the Claudia Cassidy Theater of the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St. If pianist Dapogny evokes the earliest periods of written jazz compositions, the AACM Experimental Ensemble pushes to the outer reaches of contemporary improvisation. One never is sure precisely who will staff the band, but the composite effect usually is about the same: spontaneous music-making — en masse — that sounds nearly as if it were composed.
8:30 p.m.: Ramsey Lewis 75th Birthday Celebration, at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, near Randolph Drive and Michigan Avenue. One would be hard-pressed to think of another Chicago jazz musician honored with birthday tributes at both the Ravinia Festival, in Highland Park, and the Chicago Jazz Festival, downtown, in the same summer. But Lewis' stature as a Chicago jazz musician who has helped popularize the art form around the world justifies the attention. Some balk at Lewis' "smooth jazz" projects, but there's no questioning the credibility of his early work or, better still, the vast suites he has written recently for Ravinia, most notably "To Know Her …" (performed with the Joffrey Ballet) and "Proclamation of Hope" (a celebration of Abraham Lincoln's bicentennial). Nothing quite so epic will occur this time, but the occasion should give Chicagoans a chance to reflect on the sleek beauty of Lewis' pianism and the hand-in-glove synchronicity of his trio.
2:20 p.m.: Maggie Brown — "A Tribute to Abbey Lincoln," at the Jazz on Jackson Stage, near Columbus Drive and Jackson Boulevard. The recent death of singer-composer Abbey Lincoln pointed up the sorry state of jazz singing these days. Certainly there's a severe paucity of female jazz singers who approach the expressive depth or experimental spirit of Lincoln's best work. For the past two decades, or so, record companies have preferred pretty faces and breathy little voices. Chicago vocalist Maggie Brown nobly fights that trend toward lightweight singing, bringing an earthy power to repertoire by Oscar Brown Jr., her father, and others. Moreover, she always has shown a stylistic connection to Lincoln's music. This could be a profound homage.
3:30 p.m.: Dana Hall Quintet with special guest Nicolas Payton, at the Jazz on Jackson Stage. Drummer Dana Hall teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, but he's vital to jazz in Chicago. The extraordinary power of his attacks is matched by his taut control of rhythm and meter. Nicholas Payton ranks among the most persuasive trumpeters to come out of New Orleans in the past 20 years, the emotional fervency of his playing matched by the brilliance of his technique.
3:30 p.m.: Nicole Mitchell's Sonic Projections, at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. It's a pity that flutist Nicole Mitchell has been booked opposite the aforementioned Dana Hall, which means that serious listeners will have to scurry between the two stages. Still, one would regret missing Mitchell's Sonic Projections, in which the flutist partners with like-minded adventurers: saxophonist David Boykin, keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Chad Taylor.
6 p.m.: Corey Wilkes, at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. This segment of programming at the Jazz and Heritage Stage has been sponsored by the Close Up 2 jazz club and WLFM-87.7 FM, two "smooth jazz" bastions whose presence at the Chicago Jazz Festival does not look encouraging. Nevertheless, trumpeter Wilkes happens to be a firebrand who wouldn't mute his work under any conditions. Right?
7:20 p.m.: Henry Threadgill's Zooid, at the Petrillo Music Shell. Multi-instrumentalist Henry Threadgill has been developing a singular musical language for decades, his harmony an exotic amalgam of East and West; his musical textures at once gnarly and alluring; his instrumentation reflecting the adventurous spirit of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). Threadgill's CD of last year, "This Brings Us To, Vol. 1" (Pi Recordings), was his first in nearly a decade and appeared on many critics' Top 10 lists. More important, the music reflects the originality of his voice as a composer, making this engagement a coup for the Chicago Jazz Festival.
Noon: Paulinho Garcia Quintet, at the Jazz on Jackson Stage. Most listeners know Chicago-based, Brazilian-born singer-guitarist Paulinho Garcia from his work with saxophonist Greg Fishman in the duo Two for Brazil. So the chance to hear Garcia leading a larger ensemble should not be missed, especially because it's likely he'll play the remarkably strong original compositions from his CD of last year, "My Very Life" (Chicago Sessions).
2:20 p.m.: Brad Goode Quartet, at the Jazz on Jackson Stage. In the past few years, former Chicagoan Brad Goode has evolved into a much stronger soloist than listeners may have remembered from his work here decades ago. Not that Goode wasn't a valued part of the Chicago scene. But judging by his recent Chicago club dates, Goode's solos have shown more technical bravura, tonal power and explosive phrase-making than before. This featured set should give him a chance to drive the point home.
3:30 p.m.: Brian Blade and the Fellowship Band, at the Jazz on Jackson Stage. Blade made his considerable reputation as a first-rate drummer working with Wayne Shorter, among others. But in his most recent recording, "Mama Rosa," he stepped out as singer-songwriter-guitarist. Here's hoping he plays all these roles in this set.
5 p.m.: Brad Mehldau Trio, at the Petrillo Music Shell. Pianist Mehldau pays little heed to distinctions of genre, his free-flowing improvisations taking him through jazz standards and obscurities, pop-rock hits and unmistakable classical influences. Whether his extraordinarily subtle playing can survive the diffuse acoustics of the sonically challenged Petrillo Music Shell remains to be heard, but surely no one else playing jazz piano these days sounds quite like him.
8:30 p.m.: Kurt Elling Quintet with Ernie Watts. Elling's singing has leaned toward the predictable in recent years, but perhaps he'll surprise us this time.

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