The Reader's Guide to the 31st Annual Chicago Jazz Festival: Saturday 

Dee Alexander

Dee Alexander

Michael Jackson

Friday | Saturday | Sunday | Afterfest Shows

saturday5

Young Jazz Lions Stage

Noon The Jazz Institute of Chicago's Jazz Ambassadors

1 PM Whitney Young Magnet Jazz Ensemble

2 PM Wheeling High School Jazz Ensemble

3 PM DePaul University Jazz Ensemble

Jazz on Jackson

Noon Greg Ward's Fitted Shards Alto saxophonist and 26-year-old Chicago native Greg Ward is a fluent improviser, which has made him a valued part of such dissimilar ensembles as Ernest Dawkins's operatic big band the Chicago 12 and Afro-pop revivalists the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International. His own quartet Fitted Shards is eclectic in a different way, piecing together tight unison runs, thick synthesizer textures, and head-banging riffs into an updated version of good old-fashioned jazz-rock fusion. —BM

1:10 PM Dan Cray Trio with special guest Geof Bradfield Pianist Dan Cray leads this powerhouse trio with bassist Clark Sommers—a huge and insightful player with a nearly perfect sound—and the exquisitely tasteful Greg Wyser-Pratte on drums. Unpretentious musicality and an aesthetic steeped in jazz history make this group much more fulfilling than the hip piano threesomes now so widely beloved. They're joined by versatile, like-minded saxophonist (and frequent guest) Geof Bradfield. —JC

2:20 PM Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings Increasingly prolific local flutist, composer, and bandleader Nicole Mitchell has just released Renegades (Delmark), the terrific debut of the Black Earth Strings, a spin-off of her Black Earth Ensemble. Its lively pieces—which make resourceful use of Tomeka Reid's cello, Renee Baker's violin and viola, and Josh Abrams's bass and guimbri—alternate between swinging unison licks, fluttering counterpoint, and hovering clouds of dark, viscous colors, and each virtuosic solo arises at just the right moment. Shirazette Tinnin enhances the music's groove with drum kit and hand percussion, but the strings could make it move all by themselves. Mitchell's spry lines on various flutes provide the primary melodic motor, dancing out in front with the grace and precision typical of her playing, and she even takes a vocal turn on "By My Own Grace," singing about empowerment with refreshing directness: "I will never again let my destiny / Be in the hands of my lover." —PM

3:30 PM Chicago Afro-Latin Jazz Ensemble This fine 15-member group, formed in 2006 by pianist Darwin Noguera and trumpeter Victor Garcia, yokes familiar Afro-Cuban sounds to up-to-the-minute jazz—the ensemble's founders cite Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra and Arturo O'Farrill's Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra as inspirations, and it seems to be on its way to joining their ranks. The group's infectious rhythms can fill a dance floor, and the sharp arrangements and incendiary solos are even more galvanizing. The lineup includes vocalists Renier Rosario and Lina Marie and some of Chicago's best improvisers, among them trumpeter Tito Carrillo, alto saxophonist Greg Ward, drummer Ernie Adams (who plays the fest Friday afternoon), and baritone saxophonist Steve Eisen. —PM

Jazz & Heritage Stage

12:30 PM Red Rose Ragtime Jazz Band For almost three decades this local ensemble has devoted itself to traditional ragtime and ebullient multilinear New Orleans jazz; its somewhat old-timey instrumentation includes horns, banjo, tuba, washboard, and the piano of bandleader Joan Reynolds. To their credit, they don't wear straw boaters. —PM

2 PM "Art of the Solo" with William Parker Years ago New York bassist William Parker described his approach to his instrument by comparing the bass to a drum kit—each string can be thought of as a component of the kit (kick drum, tom, snare, hi-hat), and the trick is to make them work as a single entity. Parker is one of the most important extant voices in jazz bass, and playing solo is a specialty of his—lucky for us, because in some ensembles it's easier to feel him than hear him. When he's alone it's even clearer what makes him so great: a profoundly personal sense of rhythm, an unflinching willingness to explore dissonance and pure sound, and a masterful command of the architecture of long-form energy arcs. —JC

3:30 PM A tribute to Benny Goodman featuring Eric Schneider Tribute bands at the Chicago Jazz Festival are often momentary concoctions, but this septet, which features solid reedists Eric Schneider and Ron Dewar, has already been around the block, performing several times throughout 2009—the centennial of Benny Goodman's birth—and in the process working up a batch of the legendary Chicago-born clarinetist's charts. —JC

Petrillo Music Shell

5 PM 80th Birthday Jam with Fred Anderson Chicago tenor titan Fred Anderson turned 80 on March 22, but he's living the title of his fine new trio album, Staying in the Game (Engine). He continues to run the Velvet Lounge, which has long been one of Chicago's most crucial incubators for creative improvised music, and for decades he's served as a father figure and mentor to some of the boldest and most influential players in town. As his new record makes plain, Anderson's big, burnished tone is undiminished, and he remains one of the most thoughtful soloists in Chicago jazz; no matter how abstract any given phrase may be, his lines progress with clear, precise logic, rooted deeply in the blues. For this set he's joined by two regular partners: drummer Hamid Drake, who's perhaps his most famous disciple, and bassist Josh Abrams. This context should allow Anderson to find his comfort zone quickly—but of course for him "comfort zone" means a platform from which to push against or even through the melodic impulses he's been honing for five decades. —PM

6 PM Amina Figarova Sextet From the vantage point of Chicago, it's easy to assume that all jazz from the Netherlands is of the freewheeling, playfully acrobatic strain exemplified by pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Bennink—those venerable players and their many acolytes routinely visit the Windy City. But pianist Amina Figarova—born and raised behind the Iron Curtain in Baku, Azerbaijan, where she studied classical music—has been devoted to jazz ever since she moved to Rotterdam in 1990, and her refined compositions are more serious and traditional, drawing heavily on the sensitive dynamics and quicksilver interactions of Miles Davis's quintet with Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Her band includes bassist Jeroen Vierdag, drummer Chris Strik, tenor saxophonist Marc Mommaas, trumpeter Ernie Hammes, and flutist Bart Platteau. —PM

7:10 PM William Parker presents "The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield" Curtis Mayfield wrote chart-topping hits for the Impressions and the immortal Superfly soundtrack; bassist William Parker is known mainly to free-jazz aficionados. But they're brothers in spirit—both men's music is infused with poetic mysticism intended to uplift their fellow humans. Here Parker leads an octet that will treat Mayfield's tunes as sturdy vehicles for fiery horn solos, Amiri Baraka's cantankerous rants, and Leena Conquest's soulful singing; the lineup also includes pianist Dave Burrell and drummer Hamid Drake. —BM

8:30 PM Dave Holland Big Band One of the greatest and most daring bassists of the past four decades, Dave Holland hit a sweet spot when he formed his long-running quintet back in 1983—in all its incarnations, that flexible combo has brought his sturdy, hard-swinging compositions to life with thoughtful, muscular solos and inventive multilinear interactions. It's still a great sound, but unfortunately Holland hasn't done much to build on it. He put together his big band nearly a decade ago, using his quintet as the core of its lineup, and though it gives his tunes more firepower and orchestral richness, the basic sound isn't all that different, just bigger and brassier. But I don't want to complain too much about a great band just because it hasn't gotten greater. This 13-piece group is loaded with talent: the current lineup is Holland, saxophonists Jaleel Shaw, Mark Gross, Chris Potter, and Gary Smulyan, trumpeters Taylor Haskins, Alex Spiagin, and Duane Eubanks, trombonists Robin Eubanks, Jonathan Arons, and Josh Roseman, vibist Steve Nelson, and drummer Nate Smith. They'll play music from their two albums as well as preview some material from an upcoming record. —PM

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