Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Hannibal | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chicago Symphony Orchestra with Hannibal 

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CHICAGO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA WITH HANNIBAL

An orchestral work as culturally diverse as the story it tells, Hannibal's African Portraits starts and ends with the sweet, lonely sound of the kora, the 21-string gourd harp from Africa's west coast, played by the griot Alhaji Bunka Susso. In between, Hannibal--the jazz trumpeter known as Hannibal Marvin Peterson when he played with the Gil Evans Orchestra and Pharoah Sanders--spans four centuries with a series of musical snapshots. Written in 1990, the piece traces some of the same territory as Wynton Marsalis's Blood on the Fields, notably the forced importation of Africans to the New World; but it also skips through time to present blues of the 40s and a jazz jam representing the 50s before recapitulating the earlier movements to conclude. Hannibal uses a much larger--and potentially less wieldy--assortment of resources than Marsalis's jazz orchestra: no fewer than three choral groups and a quartet of operatic soloists, along with African drummers, blues and gospel singers, and a jazz quartet (not to mention the symphony orchestra). But he tells his story with passion in an economical 50 minutes, something that Marsalis's work--a bloated and derivative piece that recently won a Pulitzer--fails to achieve at three times the length. African Portraits has one or two problems of its own: It loses its narrative cohesion with the jolting segue into the jazz section (though the section itself allows Hannibal to bust gloriously loose on trumpet, accompanied for these performances by the superlative rhythm section of pianist John Hicks, bassist Cecil McBee, and drummer Cecil Brooks III). And Hannibal's writing for the orchestra and choruses, while solid, doesn't push the envelope in terms of style or technique. But in alloying this variety of musical elements, he has created a bold and largely successful piece about roots and branches. The CSO performs it in a rare south-side appearance, along with the Mozart Piano Concerto no. 13 in C Major, featuring soloist Daniel Barenboim. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Christ Universal Temple, 11901 S. Ashland; 312-294-3000 or 773-568-1666. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Uncredited photo of Hannibal.

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