Kenny Burrell & Claude Williamson | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Kenny Burrell & Claude Williamson 

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KENNY BURRELL & CLAUDE WILLIAMSON

Kenny Burrell's name tops this bill at the Jazz Showcase, as well it should: Burrell's rich velvet tone and technical cunning established his as the guitar voice of the hard-bop 50s, and the current decade finds him again playing fast, energetic lines--though he can now draw on a wellspring of patience and experience. But Burrell plays Chicago on a roughly annual basis, while no one can recall the last time pianist Claude Williamson visited the city. What a loss--and now, what a find. To the ranks of Tommy Flanagan, Barry Harris, and Stu Katz you can add Williamson, a marvelous and authentic piano survivor. One commentator describes Williamson's style as "elegant bebop," which would seem a contradiction in terms given the blazing speeds, raucous accents, neon harmonies, and rough-and-tumble angularity associated with the music's birth. But Williamson has managed to preserve bebop's rebellious fervor within his suave and polished approach; I credit his exacting technique, his effortlessly lyrical solos, and his coolly humorous use of musical allusions. And Williamson didn't just discover these qualities after the two decades he spent in Hollywood's TV studios playing for such worthies as Sonny & Cher and the Osmonds. Reissued CDs featuring his work with the Lighthouse All-Stars and Art Pepper reveal that he had begun to revise the prevalent concept of bop piano back in the 1950s. Williamson's appearance, during the venue's Charlie Parker Month, will borrow from his 1995 album, Hallucinations (V.S.O.P.), an ear-opening exploration of the repertoire played by Bud Powell. Powell was the Parker contemporary often (though erroneously) said to have transferred Parker's style to the piano. Williamson's music reminds me of Powell's innovations even as it builds on them. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 670-2473.

NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Kenny Burrell & Claude Williamson, by Marc PoKempner.

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