Malachi Thompson Freebop Band with Billy Harper | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Malachi Thompson Freebop Band with Billy Harper 

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MALACHI THOMPSON FREEBOP BAND with BILLY HARPER

Of the three major tenor-saxophone stylists to emerge in the 70s, Billy Harper is the most active and the least recorded--go figure. (George Adams, who died five years ago, made a slew of albums with the group led by Don Pullen and himself; Jan Garbarek, with a couple dozen albums currently available, performs only occasionally.) A native of Houston, Harper combines the Texas tenor tradition--with its broad tones of blues and country gospel--with the expressionist power of John Coltrane's later years, often to stunning effect. Harper's tenor tosses you into the middle of an Afrocentric hurricane, as his full-throated improvisations fly past the loping rhythms and semiarid chord structures of his compositions. His most recent album, Somalia (Evidence), was recorded four years ago, and he plays with distressing rarity in the U.S. and in Chicago in particular (his following is much larger in Japan and Europe, where he has made most of his albums). Virtually all of his local appearances this decade have featured him in the Freebop Band, led by trumpeter Malachi Thompson. As the name suggests, Thompson aims for a midpoint between the bebop he grew up hearing and the free-form improvisations that marked his work with the AACM, and he has succeeded in creating a viable hybrid. Even when the newer techniques seem simply grafted onto older forms, the quintet still tends to thrive, thanks largely to the breezy rhythm section led by pianist Kirk Brown. But as Harper's solos surround and invigorate the music, he draws out the best that these players have to offer. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552; Sunday, 1:30 PM, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash, 312-222-1467. Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo of Malachi Thompson by Ted Gray and uncredited photo of Billy Harper.

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