Lonnie Plaxico | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lonnie Plaxico 

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On the aptly titled new Melange (Blue Note), New York bassist and Chicago native Lonnie Plaxico pulls together colors and flavors from the past quarter century of improvised music--from blues, gospel, and straight jazz balladry to salsa, electric Miles, and M-BASE. This list isn't just a historical summary, though--it's an autobiographical statement. Straight jazz? Plaxico anchored Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers for four years in the mid-80s, after a short run with Dexter Gordon. M-BASE? He played on cofounder Steve Coleman's landmark 1985 album Motherland Pulse, which introduced the concept to the world. Balladry and fusion? He's acted as Cassandra Wilson's musical director for over a decade. Of course, not even a resume like that can guarantee a sideman's ability to parlay his experience into a meaningful statement under his own name; and in fact, though Plaxico's last few albums were perfectly good showcases for his dynamite electric-bass work, they weren't especially memorable. Melange, though, is his best and most balanced recording to date, made with his working quintet, which features excellent young horn men Jeremy Pelt on trumpet and Marcus Strickland on saxophone; they round off the angles in many of the bassist's compositions and bring warmth to the slick keyboard textures he favors. But most of the credit goes to Plaxico himself, for his mature choice to de-emphasize his own playing in favor of composition, texture, and the unification of his wide-ranging musical experiences into a cohesive sound. He'll lead the band from the disc in this combination CD-release gig and homecoming. Friday, September 28, 9 PM, and Saturday, September 29, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Till Krautkraemer.

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