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Chicago Jazz Festival 2013

Mark Corroto By

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Chicago Jazz Festival
Chicago, IL
August 29-September 1, 2013
Chicago is...

You get the feeling it is a jazz city when, waiting in line at the airport, you overhear a conversation about Anthony Braxton's first meeting with Derek Bailey. Then, your suspicions are confirmed in the taxi, on the drive to the 2013 Chicago Jazz Festival when the cabbie engages you in a discussion of the major works of Eddie Harris and Gene Ammons. From Louis Armstrong's travels up the Mississippi to take up residence here, to soul jazz and the AACM, this city breathes jazz.

The festival, held over Labor Day weekend, began on Thursday evening with drummer Jack DeJohnette's Special Edition Chicago. Now in it's 35th year, it has moved into the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The Frank Gehry design, an explosion of stainless steel in Grant Park, is a star itself with seating for the attentive fan and an expansive lawn to picnic on. The festival organizers set up a north and south pavilion (the south dedicated to saxophonist Von Freeman who passed away in 2012), and a space on the top of the Harris Theatre for high school and college ensembles to perform.

Besides the dedicated venues, jazz bled from various locales and clubs, giving the listener a joyous musical overload. Thursday, pianist Randy Weston performed a solo set upstairs in the Cultural Center while the retro-band Fat Babies played music from the 1920s and 1930s downstairs. Just like the 2012 edition with Ken Vandermark playing a duo with Joe McPhee, the intimate opening at Roosevelt University's Ganz Hall threatened to be the highlight of the weekend. The festival's artist-in-residence Hamid Drake presented his Chicago Trio with Ernest Dawkins and Harrison Bankhead. The packed hall was reminded of the huge shadow cast by Fred Anderson who, like Drake, was born in Monroe, Louisiana.

Then it was on to the Pritzker Pavilion and DeJohnette's supergroup with Muhal Richard Abrams (piano), Larry Gray (bass), and the twin saxophonists Roscoe Mitchell, and Henry Threadgill. While the music sputtered in fits-and-starts at times while getting off the ground, Mitchell bulldozed through with a compelling solo on his composition "Chant" that pleasingly swallowed the entire bandstand.



Later the same evening, Bay area saxophonist Aram Shelton presented his Chicago quartet at the Elastic Arts Foundation with Keefe Jackson (tenor saxophone), Anton Hatwich (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums), supplemented by guests Frank Rosaly (drums), Josh Berman (trumpet) and Fred Lonberg-Holm (cello). The quartet became a version of the Chicago Fast Citizens concept where the leadership is passed around to various members of the band. This band would be heard at the festival on Sunday, under the leadership of Lonberg-Holm. The music transitioned from composed to improvised with an ease not heard in the DeJohnette set, maybe due to a lack of ego from these young musicians that allows such graceful indulgence. These upstarts leave no doubt that the torch is being passed to a new generation.

Friday brought drummers Michael Zerang and Hamid Drake into the world of traditional Japanese drum music, performing with Eigen Aoki (son of the bassist Tatsu) and the Tsukasa Taiko drummers. Their energy did nothing to dissipate the heat with temperature's hovering over 90 outside the pavilion and certainly near 100 inside. Drake's travels in and knowledge of world music seemed infinite and he brought an exuberance to every situation, while the Taiko drummers fired up the crowd, sending them in search of new sounds.

After lightning, thunder, and monsoon-like rains that thankfully cut the heat, saxophonist Geoff Bradford presented Melba! (Origin, 2013), his tribute to the great female trombonist Melba Liston (1926-1999), whose arrangements graced Randy Weston's bands for nearly four decades. The pianist joined the band for several tunes featuring Bradfield and trombonist Joel Adams.

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