Axel Dorner | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Axel Dorner 

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Considering the wealth of small jazz and improv labels that have cropped up here and in Europe over the last few years, it's almost criminal that superb German trumpeter Axel Dšrner has yet to record as anything but a sideman--few other horn players on the planet have the technical reach or imagination to craft pithy, melodic solos on tunes by Art Pepper, Harold Land, and Tadd Dameron one night and improvise sibilant hisses, earthy growls, and splattery smears out of thin air the next. Dšrner has shown his flexibility and range in groups led by heavies like Fred van Hove, Alex von Schlippenbach, and Chris Burn, but there's no better showcase for his fiery postbop chops than the all-Monk program on Die EnttŠuschung (Two Nineteen Records), a hard-to-find quartet recording from 1995. The trumpeter's obvious respect for the dense, tricky tunes doesn't prevent him from leaving his mark on them: stoked by a ferociously swinging rhythm section, he and bass clarinetist Rudi Mahall engage in one exhilarating bout of simultaneous soloing after another, taking bold harmonic liberties and making exciting melodic discoveries. Dšrner's playing is also inventive on the new Hidros One (Caprice), a dramatic, episodic work composed and conducted by Swedish reedist Mats Gustafsson, with bassist Barry Guy, trombonist GŸnter Christmann, pianist Sten Sandell, and Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, among others. Dšrner's half-valving and muting turn his tone into something almost viscous, a malleable blob he shapes to fit the rapidly morphing contexts, and along the way he draws on his vast catalog of abstract textures: spit-flecked breaths, pointillistic blurts, pigeonlike flutters. Dšrner will be in Chicago for a week, playing in a variety of settings: this Wednesday he'll improvise with Ken Vandermark, Jim O'Rourke, and Lonberg-Holm; next Friday he'll join Jim Baker, Michael Zerang, and Vandermark to accompany animated films by Winsor McCay, Dave Fleischer, Otto Messmer, Norman McLaren, Larry Jordan, and Sally Cruikshank; and next Wednesday he'll play Vandermark compositions with the reedist's Territory Band, a new group composed of the usual local suspects plus British drummer Paul Lytton. Wednesday, January 26, and next Wednesday, February 2, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Next Friday, January 28, 8 PM, Ferguson Hall, Columbia College, 600 S. Michigan; 773-293-1447.

Peter Margasak

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