Bunky Green | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Bunky Green 

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BUNKY GREEN

Some years ago alto saxophonist Bunky Green listed among his musical heroes an equal number of jazz horn men and European composers of the 18th and 19th centuries, and for all the right reasons: it wasn't just Parker's and Coltrane's exposition of musical freedom but also Beethoven's going "past tonality" in his string quartets and the "crying melodies" of Chopin that had engaged his attention. Those insights--plus the bright plasticity of his rock-hard sound, his shifty rhythmic imagination, and a strong dose of artistic soul--made Green one of the most popular local musicians of the 60s and 70s. But even then the innovations of Ornette Coleman's methodology and of Eric Dolphy's speech-inflected alto had left their mark; by the 80s, when he returned to active performance after a long hiatus, Green had also found the weirdly virtuosic technique of Anthony Braxton to his taste, becoming the only mainstream saxist to adapt any aspect of Braxton's music to his own. Green dances on a tightrope stretched taut between bebop and the avant-garde. His ballads have a keening quality that pushes them toward but not quite into atonality, and he has molded his own continuing education into an unmistakable style characterized by a unique slippery approach to swinging the beat. (You hear strong echoes of Green in the playing of m-base conceptualizer Steve Coleman, who studied with Green here in Chicago.) Green's career has taken him progressively south, first to Chicago from his native Milwaukee and then, several years ago, to Florida, to accommodate his successful career in international jazz education--an activity that has steadily eclipsed his playing. Green hasn't recorded in more than five years, and he hasn't played in town for nearly that long. For those reasons alone his name tops the marquee for a performance with his old running mates, pianist Stu Katz and drummer Wilbur Campbell, at the 18th Annual Jazz Institute of Chicago Jazz Fair. Monday, 9 PM, Bismarck Hotel, 171 W. Randolph; 427-1676. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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