Thursday, July 17, 2008

The JVC Jazz Festival: no longer a Chicago embarrassment

Posted By on 07.17.08 at 08:40 PM

The Pitchfork Music Festival isn't the only game in town this weekend: a radically revamped JVC Jazz Festival runs Friday through Sunday at various venues around Chicago. In the past this local satellite of the onetime Newport Jazz Festival presented a handful of forgettable smooth-jazz shows, but this year the music is vastly improved--though it looks suspiciously like the presenters merely attached their name to an assortment of gigs that were already booked. In this week's paper Bill Meyer previews bassist William Parker's shows at the Velvet Lounge, sure to be a highlight, and while I fail to understand the logic of including Pat Benatar's Friday-night gig at the House of Blues, there are some other shows worth recommending.

Guitarist John Abercrombie (pictured), one of the most dominant and popular guitarists in jazz over the past couple of decades, plays the reborn Jazz Showcase Friday through Sunday with one of his working bands, which includes drummer Adam Nussbaum and organist Gary Versace; they're joined by local saxophonist Eric Schneider. Nearly all of Abercrombie's records as a leader have been for ECM, including last year's The Third Quartet--he's been one of label owner and producer Manfred Eicher's most devoted acolytes, committed to the chilly production the imprint is both celebrated and reviled for. I've always found his sound a bit too atmospheric, but when he wants to get down and dirty, he can play the shit out of the guitar. His recent quartet records--with drummer Joey Baron, bassist Marc Johnson, and brilliant violinist Mark Feldman--have benefited immensely from Feldman's counterpoint and harmony lines, which bring some much-needed tension and grit.

Since parting ways with Blue Note Records a couple of years back, superb alto saxophonist Greg Osby has turned up less frequently around these parts, but his Friday and Saturday shows at Andy's with local trumpet phenom Corey Wilkes sound promising. For 15 years or so Osby has shown a great gift for spotting rising young stars--including pianist Jason Moran and bassist Matt Brewer--and though Wilkes, who released his first record last month, isn't exactly a rookie, I'm curious to hear if he'll be at all deferential to Osby. Wilkes's debut suggested he hasn't quite sorted out his talents yet.

And on Friday and Saturday the Green Mill hosts a multigenerational tenor-sax blowout, with patriarch Von Freeman, AACM MVP Ari Brown, and young squirt Frank Catalano, who just released his debut for Savoy Jazz, Bang!--a tepid and predictable dose of easygoing jazz-funk. Catalano has plenty of energy and chops, but his elders apparently have all the taste, knowledge, and ideas. Lucky for him, Freeman and Brown are avuncular, not cutthroat, so there won't be a need for a body bag. The superb rhythm section consists of pianist Willie Pickens, bassist Brian Sandstrom, and drummer Robert Shy.

Today's playlist:

Jacob Young, Evening Falls (ECM)
Junior Delahaye, Showcase (Wackies)
Thank You, Terrible Two (Thrill Jockey)
Cameo, Anthology (Mercury)
Bushman's Revenge, Cowboy Music (Jazzaway)

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