Hamid Drake | MICHAEL JACKSON PHOTO
♦ Aug. 29-Sept. 1
♦ Millennium Park,
Randolph and Michigan
♦ Visit cityofchicago.org
It’s a landmark 35th year for Chicago Jazz Fest, the incumbent land being Millennium Park, since events fully transfer from Grant Park, the glamorous Pritzker Pavilion now hosting headliners once parading Petrillo Bandshell. It’s a bold, welcome move introducing Jazz and Heritage and Von Freeman side stages flanking “The Bean,” ingeniously housing The Young Jazz Lions Pavilion behind the Pritzker above Harris Theater. The line-up is tremendous, notwithstanding cruelly early sets for saxist Nick Mazzarella’s Trio, Fast Citizens and The Engines — the latter two superb aggregations a nasty Sunday lunch clash. Latin jazz is represented — Chevere, Papo Vazquez; traditional forms — Evan Christopher’s Clarinet Road, Fat Babies and Jimmy Heath; plus vocalists Gregory Porter, Hinda Hoffman, Erin McDougald.
Ubiquitous artist-in-residence drummer/percussionist/faith healer Hamid Drake throws down with Japanese taiko drummers Friday afternoon, convenes an allstar improv quartet on Saturday and fronts his mystical Bindu-Reggaeology septet on Sunday.
Given Chicago’s progressive palette, there’s plenty challenging sounds — catch cutting edge Scandinavians Atomic Sunday afternoon, for instance. Softer flavors amidst the more piquant include mellifluous yet exploratory saxophone sage Charles Lloyd and R&B-savvy pianist Robert Glasper. Then savor joyful closing sets from Jason Moran’s Fats Waller dance party and Donald Harrison’s Congo Square Nation, a New Orleans fiesta.
Try not to miss anything, but here are a few tips.
Ben Patterson Organ Quartet (Von Freeman Pavilion, South Promenade, 3.30-4.25 p.m.)
A pertinent slot for onetime Von Freeman sideman Patterson at the stage dedicated to the late saxophonist. Now NYC-based, Patterson is a dexterous, Oscar Peterson-school pianist who moonlights in blues circles. The downside experiencing him behind the Hammond B3 is that you’ll doubtfully spy his fleet digits. Explosive trumpeter Victor Garcia will negotiate Patterson’s tricky “Comin’ Right Up,” also expect soupçons of Stevie Wonder.
Geof Bradfield’s ‘Melba!’ (Pritzker Pavilion, 6.30-7:20 p.m.)
Undersung, scholarly saxophonist Bradfield’s “Melba!” (Origin, 2013) illustrates the life and times of trombonist/arranger Melba Liston, who collaborated with everybody from Basie and Ellington to Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross. Liston’s chief associates were Dizzy Gillespie and Randy Weston, and Bradfield has fashioned eponymous tributes to both within his suite. While Joel Adams channels Liston, Victor Garcia (having a busy day) will exhume the diverse moods of Gillespie, but brilliant pianist Ryan Cohan will likely defer to Weston, when the master himself sits in.
Wadada Leo Smith’s ‘Ten Freedom Summers’ (Pritzker Pavilion, 7:40-8:40 p.m.)
I attended the 2011 premier of this Pulitzer shortlisted magnum opus for improvising quartet and chamber ensemble, intended by Smith as a psychological study of the Civil Rights struggle. The entire piece now runs seven and a half hours after Harvard’s Fromm Foundation recently commissioned “March on Washington 1963,” and it traverses several hundred pages of handwritten manuscript plus graphic scores. The latter are properly described as “language scores” in Smith’s world of Ankrasmation, which involves beautiful visualizations of color forms providing keys to interpretation. Smith nurtures pods of creativity within the whole yet ushers narrative shifts with hand gestures or stark, harmon-muted trumpet blasts, conjuring chasms of space or texture. Watch for pianist Anthony Davis (long-running collaborator in Smith’s Golden Quartet and a highly individual strategist himself), plus stunning violinist Shalini Vijayan, a crucial link with Smith’s Red Coral ensemble. Samples from the 22 sections of the full work will include “Emmet Till” (due to Till’s Chicago connection), and “JFK,” in honor of the city’s strong Irish population.
Ernie Krivda Quartet (Von Freeman Pavilion, 2:20-3:15 p.m.)
Krivda’s calling card hasn’t spread wildly beyond his Cleveland homebase because in his 20s the jazz greats came to him, when he fronted the house band at the legendary Smiling Dog saloon. It’s true that he also turned down Miles Davis. Krivda’s barrage balloon lungs could puff down a brick house but he’s a noted composer, too, and will include a new piece, “Requiem for a Jazz Lady,” dedicated to Beverley Jaroz, a Cleveland jazz patron murdered in 1964. “It’s a Cleveland version of the Black Dahlia story (an unsolved case),” says Krivda, who will also homage late Detroit/Toledo pianist Claude Black with “The Remarkable Mr. Black.” Krivda’s drummer Renell Gonsalves, incidentally, is the son of Ellington sax hero Paul.
Sakoto Fujii’s Orchestra Chicago (Von Freeman Pavilion, 3:30-4:30 p.m.)
Berlin-based Japanese pianist Fujii’s lovely, lowkey solo CD “Gen Himmel” (Libra, 2013) highlights her skill exploring untempered textures with accessible logic. The quartet Kaze, the nucleus of this specially-assembled group, concurrently released “Tornado” (Libra), and on the title track, tag-team trumpeters Natsuki Tamura and Christian Pruvost shriek like pterodactyls meeting Daffy Duck in a wind tunnel between urgent statements of more conventional motifs, while Fujii dampens strings, morphing her piano into a gamelan or cimbalom. This team, including French drummer Peter Orins, will have a blast melding amid such cherry-picked local meta-musicians as Keefe Jackson, John McLean and Michael Zerang.
Gregory Porter (Pritzker Pavilion, 6:10-7:05 p.m.)
Like Lizz Wright (also the offspring of a minister) and Kurt Elling (who studied divinity), Gregory Porter transmits the force of faith but his head isn’t above clouds. His gorgeously disarming and original love poems, which smack of Elling’s beseechment, Curtis Stigers, Jamie Cullum or Stephen Sondheim at intervals, draw you into personal dramas and chaste reflections shot with indelible feeling. Porter’s Blue Note debut, “Liquid Spirit” hits Sept 9, following up the fine “Be Good” (Motema, 2012), with spoonfuls of bittersweet wishful thinking. Check the Romeo-n-Juliet paean to denial “Hey Laura” and his aching “Wolfcry.” If Porter (replete with cute, inexplicable choice of headgear) doesn’t get to you, you may have a hole in your heart.
Rudresh Mahanthappa’s ‘Gamak’ (Pritzker Pavilion, 7:25-8:25 p.m.)
A helluva band lit by the unstoppable virtuosity of alto saxist/composer Mahanthappa and endless, phantasmagoric guitar inventions from David Fiuczysnki (imagine if you will, John Scofield on hallucinogens) — not to discount world-class French bassist Francois Moutin and versatile drummer Dan Weiss.
Hamid Drake and Bindu: ‘Reggaeology’ (Pritzker Pavilion, 6:10-7:05 p.m.)
Anchored by Josh Abrams’ bass and guimbri, and boasting the simpatico twin trombone assault of Jeb Bishop and Jeff Albert, gloriously tortured guitar from Jeff Parker, beatboxer Napoleon Maddox, and special guest vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, this group exposes essences of Drake’s radical belief system, via guru Lex Hixon’s writings and Tantric hymns. Drake delays grooves to field spontaneous abstract interplay, then kicks in with one-drop rimshots and takes us to Jamaica. Any Drake-helmed group tastes snap, crackle and pop, but what he’s really after is no less than universal consciousness, borne out on “Reggaeology” (RogueArt 2010) by calls for “Togetherness” and “Hymns of Solidarity.”
Robert Glasper (Pritzker Pavilion, 7:25-8:25 p.m.)
Music is a cyclic continuum to Texan pianist Glasper. He has a touch not unlike Bill Evans, who he borrows from on his “Blue Note Canvas” (2005) — delicate but tensile, although Herbie Hancock is the more common association. There is no “boom, tish!” since Glasper percolates grooves without fanfare, used as he is to backing singers of all genres, mostly in the palatable rap, hip-hop arena. Corey Benjamin threatens to bag most attention with his big hair and vocoder antics as much as smooth sax play, while bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Mark Colenberg synch with Glasper’s non gratuitous ethos.
Michael Jackson is a local free-lance writer and photographer.