Corky McClerkin | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Corky McClerkin 

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You've heard Corky McClerkin's piano style before, even if you've missed McClerkin himself: it follows in the wake of the infectiously funky, blues-based keyboard music exemplified by hard-bop paragons Horace Silver and Bobby Timmons in the 50s and 60s. Not surprisingly, McClerkin listened to those pianists while growing up on Chicago's south-side; he also heard plenty of Ahmad Jamal (who then lived and worked in Chicago), and Jamal's trademark airiness occasionally works its way into the mix as well. On a tune like "Gutbucket," from his new album The Power of One (on Southport), McClerkin recalls the jump band roots of his musical forebears; he then turns around to offer up a lightly Latin homage to Joe Sample and the Crusaders, and includes a few soul-flavored vocal numbers that still manage to retain a jazz edge. (And, like Jamal and another of his favorites, Ray Bryant, McClerkin knows how to leave space for his bluesiest lines to breathe and resonate.) I won't promise you'll hear anything new, or unusual, or even special in McClerkin's seamless blend of these various musical threads. But given how few people can still really testify in this easy-to-take, supposedly easy-to-play format, "old" and "familiar" become attributes rather than failings. This engagement, a CD-release party, features saxist Duke Payne, vocalist Theresa Dvia, and others from the album. McClerkin's trio also regularly appears at the Drake Hotel. Thursday, April 29, 5 PM, Catch 35, 35 W. Wacker; 346-3500.

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