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George Freeman/Chico Freeman: All In The Family

Dan Bilawsky By

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There are few things more quintessentially "Chicago" in jazz than the Freeman family. Tenor titan Von Freeman ruled the roost in The Windy City decade after decade until his death in 2012; his brother, George Freeman, played with everybody from saxophonist Charlie Parker to organist Shirley Scott; his other brother, the late Eldridge "Bruz" Freeman, was part of the house band at the Pershing and the drummer in Hampton Hawes' quartet with Jim Hall; and Von's son, saxophonist Chico Freeman, has ties to the AACM, has worked with eternal seekers like saxophonist Arthur Blythe and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and has recorded extensively under his own name over the past four decades. Together, the Freemans managed to embody the entire sound of Chicago, creating music that runs the gamut from bar-walking blues to bop, far-out to funky, and tradition-minded to Afro-Futuristic. Here, the last two standing—George and Chico—join forces for the first time on record to pay tribute to their family and all that is Chicago.

Fully-improvised vignettes, full band numbers, and duo encounters quickly come and go on this twenty-two track album. There's a beautiful ballad to behold ("My Scenery"), a Latin lovely to admire ("Latina Bonita"), a number that continually morphs into new shapes and feels ("Inner Orchestrations"), some straight-up post-bop swing ("Chico"), a haunting take on a classic ("Angel Eyes"), a sunny groove tune ("Marko"), and more. Miniatures—bite-sized percussion morsels, a series of interludes, the album-ending remarks recorded live at the Englewood Jazz Festival—account for about half of the tracks, but they don't hamper the flow of the album. Quite the opposite, in fact, as they tend to keep ears guessing and keep things interesting.

Given the nature of the project, it should come as no shock that the personnel list would contain the names of more notable Chicagoans capable of giving a three-hundred-and-sixty degree view of the city's musical landscape: inside-outside players like drummer Hamid Drake and bassist Harrison Bankhead, longtime Von Freeman guitarist Mike Allemana, and Malachi Thompson-connected pianist Kirk Brown, along with Swiss-born percussionist Reto Weber, all ably assist in spreading the wide-ranging gospel of that fair city and saluting the Freeman family legacy.
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