Available Jelly | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Available Jelly 

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You can still hear the scrappy street band in the Amsterdam jazz sextet Available Jelly, an offshoot of a Utah performance troupe that went to Europe in the 70s to play open-air festivals and stuck around. Working out a new composition or arrangement, each member typically devises his own lead or supporting part in the orchestration. That may be one reason they play Ellington tunes such as "The Feeling of Jazz" so well; this band, like Ellington's, comprises individual voices free to be themselves. Michael Vatcher's drumming is often ever so slightly off the beat or out of scale (his sudden dynamic shifts and use of odd-sized drums adds to the exaggerated effect), and trombonist Wolter Wierbos and tenor saxophonist Tobias Delius are always ready to junk their customary parts if better alternatives present themselves in performance. Wierbos, Delius, reedist Michael Moore, and bassist Ernst Glerum also play in Misha Mengelberg's ICP Orchestra, which likewise favors fluid arrangements and plenty of spontaneous counterpoint. But Jelly brings a broader range of pop and global influences to the mix: the Beach Boys, Neal Hefti, majestic anthems from Madagascar. The brass really shines on that last stuff; Wierbos and cornetist Eric Boeren came up in Dutch brass bands, so they can blend while they're blaring, and Boeren spent time in Peru, picking up the fast, tangy local vibrato. The most recent Jelly available is Happy Camp (Ramboy), recorded in 1996, the year after this lineup came together; the group sounded very good then, and has gotten even better since. At the free Cultural Center gig the John Hollenbeck/Theo Bleckmann Duo opens. Tuesday, October 7, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630. Wednesday, October 8, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

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