Craig Harris | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Craig Harris 

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CRAIG HARRIS

Trombonist Craig Harris makes it way too easy for us to forget he's out there: he records infrequently under his own name, and his travels haven't brought him to Chicago in half a decade. That's a shame, because he stands among the most exciting modern trombonists. Along with Frank Lacy (known these days for his work with the Mingus Big Band), Harris extends a Chicago lineage--specifically, the playing of Julian Priester, who joined Sun Ra's Arkestra in the 50s and Herbie Hancock's fusion band in the 70s, and in the interim developed an improvising persona that credibly blended mainstream and avant-garde concerns and technique. Harris has a lean and edgy look, and whatever energy causes that wildness in his eyes, he manages to focus it on playing that balances power and precision. Harris also conveys a large emotional range in his music: he can go from atom-blast free jazz to tender ballads, and throughout this decade his best-known project, the band Cold Sweat, has found him tweaking the soul-jazz connection. But even that band keeps Harris relatively under wraps; given the chance, he stretches out with billowing brunet solos that can cradle and elevate an audience, pushing an apparently inexhaustible supply of air into chorus after chorus, mixing clean postbop phrasing with ancient growls and space-age wheezes. The AACM and the sphere of its influence have produced only a couple of trombonists who could meet the demands and share the goals of "Great Black Music," and Harris is definitely one. He'll perform with percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio. Friday and Saturday, 8 PM, Rituals, 537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834. NEIL TESSER

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

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