Jeff Newell's New Trad Octet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jeff Newell's New Trad Octet 

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JEFF NEWELL'S NEW TRAD OCTET

If Lincoln Avenue, Cottage Grove, and New Orleans's Bourbon Street were somehow to form an intersection, you'd find this band playing on the corner. Several years ago alto and soprano saxist Jeff Newell conceived this project, an eight-piece band that borrows heavily from the New Orleans brass-band tradition. Like the Crescent City's famous Dirty Dozen Brass Band and its several proteges, Newell's group applies the modified march beats of New Orleans street music to a lot of songs that came a good deal later, from Ellington's "Caravan" to Charlie Parker's "Bongo Beep." But the New Trad Octet, which also stars trumpeter Orbert Davis and guitarist John McLean, represents an even greater experiment in hybridization. It combines a thoroughly modern rhythm section--featuring piano, guitar, and string bass, none of which show up in traditional brass bands--with Dan Anderson's nimble work on the tuba (an instrument that usually would supply the music's bass lines all by itself). Similarly, drummer Rick Vitek's bouncy evocation of the New Orleans rhythms allows more conventional swing patterns to flow in and out, and Newell's flavorful arrangements still manage to accommodate his own skittering lines and hard-edged harmonies--which have a lot more to do with the free-bop sound of Chicago in the 90s, and with the music of such transplanted New Orleans natives as Branford Marsalis and Donald Harrison, than with those maintaining the brass-band tradition. Newell's bittersweet sound transports solos that range from tart to pretty, making a fine foil for the pile-driver emotionalism of tenor great Von Freeman, in whose group Newell will also appear as a special guest this weekend. Newell left town in 1994 to ply his trade in New York, depriving Chicago of a steadily developing saxophonist and jazz activist; he gets back too infrequently for my taste, which makes this weekend's appearances fall somewhere between old home week and a special event. The New Trad Octet plays Friday, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552. The Von Freeman Quartet (featuring Newell) plays Saturday, 10 PM, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232. NEIL TESSER

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

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