Lou Donaldson Quartet with Dr. Lonnie Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Lou Donaldson Quartet with Dr. Lonnie Smith 

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Veteran alto saxist Lou Donaldson faces the audience with a raised eyebrow and a toothy grin, and his horn's high-pitched, eely timbre--which still has plenty of the grease that made him a soul-jazz hero in the 60s and 70s--complements his squeaky voice. (When he sings one of his raucously funny blues tunes, he's like a male Moms Mabley.) Along with his contemporaries Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Donaldson had to confront the music of Charlie Parker, but he took a different tack: Parker was at heart a bluesman, and Donaldson's sizable catalog of pleasantly skewed bebop emphasizes that side of Bird's music. For this weekend's sets, part of the Jazz Showcase's monthlong tribute to Parker, Donaldson plays with a longtime collaborator, organist Dr. Lonnie Smith. Though this arrangement strains the verisimilitude of the tribute--Parker never worked with organ groups, which were just evolving when he died in 1955--I'm willing to bend a lot of rules for the good doctor. Smith hit the scene as an inventive soul-jazz player in the late 60s but stopped making records as a leader in 1979. When he returned in '91, wearing the turbans that have since become his trademark (and bearing an honorific of uncertain origin), he offered instead a gratifyingly impressionistic spin on classic jazz organ. Smith fills his solos with stuff most organists use only as seasoning--surprising accents, percussive passages, abstract swirls of tonal color--and they reliably turn out airy as souffles but filling as stew. As a sideman he blithely enhances any bandleader's intent; on his own recent discs he's turned his attention to the demanding music of icons like Coltrane and Hendrix. Even if the jazz-organ renaissance of the 90s had done nothing else for the genre, it would've justified itself by returning the spotlight to Smith. $20. Friday and Saturday, August 13 and 14, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 15, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Michael Jackson.

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