Akio Sasajima Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Akio Sasajima Trio 

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Akio Sasajima avoids fads and trends, and we're all better for it: his gracious yet fiery guitar work fits firmly in the mainstream jazz tradition, but at the same time, he keeps pulling in newer influences and pushing at the seams, slowly stretching his art. (A solid melodist, his compositions have a distinct fingerprint, as can be heard on his Muse album of a few years back; another is due later this year.) Sasajima also likes to experiment with different settings for his rich guitar tone, and a case in point is the spare framework of this classic organ trio, in which the organist uses the instrument's pedal board to play bass lines, creating an economy-sized "quartet" sound. It's Sasajima's name on top, but he's first to admit that the contributions of his sidemen qualify them as de facto coleaders. Pianist Mike Kocour has been consistently impressive since adapting his energetic precision to the Hammond organ; like many pianists before him, he seems to delight in the organ's easier touch, careening off on idiosyncratic solo forays that would be out of place on the acoustic instrument. Drummer Joel Spencer is more or less the godfather of this unit--he established his own organ trio a few years back using Kocour, and later added Sasajima to the band--and he brings his usual hard-edged bonhomie to the proceedings. The result? Three terrific young players from the north side, bringing new perspectives to a format that thrived in the south-side music of the 50s and 60s, and doing the tradition proud. Tonight and Thursday, the Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

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