Donald Harrison | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Donald Harrison 

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I once heard a Chicago saxophonist complain about the discrepancy between Donald Harrison's generous embouchure--a broad mouth with a plump lower lip, seemingly designed by nature to create a fat, billowing saxophone tone--and the pointed, slightly acerbic timbre he gets out of his instrument. "If I had those lips," the local swore, "I'd have a sound like Cannonball." Harrison brings a skewed approach not only to his alto sound but to his music as a whole, and it makes him one of the most intriguing alumni of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, in which he played from 1982 to '84. In his solos Harrison displays a powerful lyricism, but mostly in shards: his insistence on avoiding the easy resolution of an idea combines with that squinty tone to fracture his melodies in edifying ways. Similarly, his album output has strayed from linear expectations. He tucked into the jambalaya of pop idioms associated with his native New Orleans on the 1991 Indian Blues, which featured the playing of Dr. John and an homage to the city's "Mardi Gras Indian" tribes; he then carried some of that music's rough-hewn texture and hoppy energy into his ensuing albums, where they've coexisted in slight (but wholly creative) tension with more sophisticated harmonic material. And the 2002 Kind of New (Candid) took a completely different turn, re-creating--and barely updating--the music from Miles Davis's classic Kind of Blue. Some people liked it a lot more than I did, but the very fact that Harrison would give it a whirl, even though such a project is an open invitation for unflattering comparisons, pleases me no end. His final gig of this stand, on Charlie Parker's birthday, closes a monthlong celebration of the bebop legend. $20. Tuesday through Thursday, August 24 through 26, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, August 27 and 28, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 29, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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