Frank and Anna Dawson | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Frank and Anna Dawson 

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Like most married musical partners, guitarist Frank Dawson and his vocalist mate Anna have an undeniable chemistry; unlike many, they never let it ease them into comfortable patterns but rather take advantage of it to push each other's performances higher and higher. Frank has spectacular technique and uses it to develop his complicated musical ideas, but he steers clear of mere flamboyance. That's not always easy to do vis-a-vis Anna's onstage cheerleading. She shouts and applauds out of musical appreciation, conjugal pride, and nervous energy; then she funnels those feelings into performances of ebullient craftsmanship. Some people have trouble with the few-holds-barred nature of her music. I think they're just being grumps; for my money, few singers swing harder, and the liberties she takes with melody have a great range and depth. At brisk tempos, voice and guitar can merge into music with the punch of rocket fuel; on ballads, this synergy can spiral a song into a deep well of contemplation. Behind them, bassist Scott Mason and drummer Mike Raynor provide the foundation of a strong rhythm section, which pianist Frank Caruso upgrades to superior. Not even devoted Chicago jazz fans have much familiarity with Caruso, whose few appearances on recordings have placed him in a postfusion box. But set him loose in a pure jazz setting and his solos bust out big, with interlocking rhythms and a hungry right hand that gobbles up the chords. The Dawson gang performs as part of the four-day, 12-band Marshall Vente Jazz Festival, organized by the eponymous composer-arranger-keyboardist-bandleader-DJ, who follows the Dawsons with his Latin pop-jazz group Tropicale. (Other festival highlights include a septet led by saxophonist Pat Mallinger on Friday and a Sunday matinee featuring Judy Roberts, Jeff Newell's delightful New Trad Octet, and an intriguing quintet that pairs the stylistically divergent Bob Dogan on piano and Ari Brown on saxes.) Saturday, 8 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Frank & Anna Dawson photo.

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