Saxophonist Miguel Zenon performs Saturday at the University of Chicago's Rockefeller Chapel. Michael Jackson photo
Updated: November 2, 2012 6:15AM
The eighth Hyde Park Jazz Festival was Kate Dumbleton’s first as its director, and she faced some headaches Saturday.
Traffic foiled vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz from making it for a Downbeat panel discussion alongside Dee Alexander, saxist Melvin Butler and trumpeter Marquis Hill at the University of Chicago’s brand new Logan Center for the Arts. Meanwhile, Damion Reid and Zack Lober of saxist Greg Ward’s ancipated “Phonic Juggernaut” didn’t make it in from New York. Ward rallied immediately, calling on local drummer Marcus Evans and bassist Michael Lough for his set at Little Black Pearl on East 47th Street.
With first-come-first-served ticketing (though all events were free), crushes of people were avoided for concerts in the Logan’s ninth-floor Performance Penthouse, where cellist Tomeka Reid presented her new chamber trio with bassist Josh Abrams and guitarist Matt Schneider. It was good to hear Reid, often in larger contexts amidst rafts of horns, in a more intimate environment focusing on her compositions, which included a dedication to the late violinist Billy Bang as well as a cover of Bang’s “Rainbow Gladiator.”
The setting in the penthouse resembled a smaller version of the Allen Room at Lincoln Center, with fine views of the University of Chicago’s Gothic buildings visible through side windows. Another superb trio, Sun Rooms, later graced the space, featuring drummer Mike Reed, bassist Nate McBride and Adasiewicz, that intense virtuoso of the vibraphone.
Notwithstanding crowd-pleasing shows from saxophonist Jarrard Harris’ Quintet and the Chicago Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble on the twin stages on Midway Plaisance (the West Stage with dance floor, another addition this year), two more were particularly memorable for musical substance as well as stunning location. Violinist Zach Brock, like Ward a stellar Chicago musician who made the move to New York, dazzled three consecutive houses in the tiny upstairs room at Frank Lloyd Wright’s storied Robie House. Bunched in an alcove with bassist Matt Ulery and drummer Jon Deitemyer in the low-ceiling, Prairie-style room, Brock started with a Sonny Rollins-inspired “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” as folks peered through the stained glass windows from the outside balcony. An idiomatic shift from jazz to a more countrified vein heralded Brock’s poignant “Almost Never Was” with Ulery delicately ghosting notes over Deitemyer’s brushwork. After a nod to jazz violin hero Jean Luc Ponty’s 70th birthday, the trio finished with “Man of the Light” by Zbigniew Seifert, an all but forgotten Polish violinist Brock has continued to champion.
Thanks to an inspired idea by Dumbleton, Saturday’s events climaxed with a breathtaking solo recital in Rockefeller Chapel from Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon. Zenon proved why his honoring as both a MacArthur and Guggenheim Fellow is wholly justified. With composure and humility he faultlessly mined deep internalizations of Puerto Rico’s folkloric traditions including Sylvia Rexach’s “Alma Adentro,” Pablo Milanes’ “Son de Cuba a Puerto Rico” and “Impromptu” by Luis Miranda. Zenon commenced with an obscure tribute to his home country originally played by Sidney Bechet, ending with an almost archaeological survey of Zequinha de Abreu’s “Tico Tico,” made famous in the jazz world by Charlie Parker. Despite the absence of accompaniment, Zenon maintained a danceable rhythm throughout his Rococo yet never unduly repetitive extrapolations of basic material, sending his gorgeous alto tone (honed by classical studies in San Juan as well as jazz) reverberating 80 feet up into the nave of the sacred space. In short, unmissable.
Michael Jackson is a Chicago free-lance writer and photographer.