Joanne Brackeen | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Joanne Brackeen 

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JOANNE BRACKEEN

Joanne Brackeen attacks the piano with a bounding energy that communicates her passion for the music, her willingness to take risks, and her delight in whimsy; with her six-foot frame swathed in louder-than-life clothes, she might even be jazz's answer to Isadora Duncan (and often enough, her distinctive and accomplished music seems to dance). A member of the great generation of pianists that includes McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and Herbie Hancock, Brackeen at her best sits just a notch below them, her music addressing some of the same concerns but also reflecting her early friendship with Ornette Coleman and his circle in late-50s Los Angeles. Brackeen went on to become the only alumna of Art Blakey's famous finishing school, the Jazz Messengers, and her playing even convinced the latent misogynist Stan Getz to employ her for a couple years. Brackeen has received some deservedly excellent reviews for her two albums of Brazilian music, and also for last year's Power Talk (on the obscure Turnipseed label). But a better primer for this weekend's activities would be her only solo effort, Live at Maybeck--which Concord Records recorded at Brackeen's urging, and which gave rise to that label's extensive solo piano series, now comprising more than 40 albums. Hers contains lustrous, full-bodied renditions of standards as well as her own quirky--and quirkily titled--compositions. Brackeen's originals often employ the open intervals and staccato rhythms of Asian music, and they yield percussive, hyperactive solos that will likely remind you of Keith Jarrett's more outre work. Tunes like these once spurred talk of Brackeen's "avant-garde" tendencies, but really they're just the natural expressions of a wild woman shaking the blues. Friday, 8:30 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. Brackeen will also perform with modern saxophone great Joe Lovano Saturday, 4 PM, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467.

NEIL TESSER

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