Jim Cooper | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Jim Cooper 

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JIM COOPER

For more than 50 years, jazz musicians have locked horns with other practitioners of their instruments. But while this has led to plenty of well-promoted "trumpet wars" and "battles of the saxes," hardly ever do you hear of such sparring matches between vibraphonists. For one thing, there aren't so many of them around; more important, the instrument allows a fraction of the timbral variety and range of inflection that the wind-driven instruments do. Yet when Jim Cooper and two of his peers last put the pedals to the metal, in a surprisingly successful concert several years ago, their separate approaches to improvisation proved sufficiently diverse to carry a good part of the night. (No matter how much individualism the players evince, you'll need a special love for the vibes' chilly sound to last more than an hour or so at this event.) Cooper, who developed into a technically adept soloist during the 1980s, plays with the unvarnished realism that distinguishes Chicago jazz--specifically, he eschews the glossy glibness that makes some vibists sound like they tripped into the glassware. He has spent much of this year teaching in Taiwan, and it'll be interesting to hear what that experience has added to his playing. One of his cohorts, Kathy Kelly, who leads a group of her own called Vibrafon, will surely provide some striking contrasts: she uses a sharper attack and more jagged melodies to give her buoyant improvisations a tight focus. I haven't yet heard newcomer Chris Varga, the last of these three official malleteers, but it wouldn't shock me if Wilbur Campbell--the bebop treasure who'll anchor the rhythm section from the drums and an exuberant vibraphonist in his own right--stepped up to the bars for a number or two. Pianist Gene Esposito and bassist Dave Marr round out the band, one of the first to play the newest home of the Bop Shop. Saturday, 10 PM, 1146 S. Wabash; 773-275-7771. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Bill Klewitz.

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