Marshall Vente Project 99 | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Marshall Vente Project 99 

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MARSHALL VENTE PROJECT 99

The hallmark of the annual Marshall Vente Jazz Festival has been its variety: over four packed nights of music, it's often featured more than a dozen groups, only about a third of them actually led by Vente--the tireless pianist, arranger, radio host, and entrepreneur whose musical projects have ranged from intimate piano-and-voice duos to the rowdy Brazilian unit Tropicale to an 18-piece big band. So it's a surprise to find the Saturday in this year's festival dedicated to just one of his bands, Project 99, the current version of his exciting early-80s nonet, Project Nine. The group has expanded more than once, and now numbers between 12 and 14--for this show the guest soloists include former Chicago saxist Jeff Newell, harmonica innovator Howard Levy, and bassist-vocalist Eldee Young--but the extra instrumentation doesn't cloud the translucent voicings Vente learned firsthand from legendary Miles Davis arranger Gil Evans. (For a while Vente called the band "Project Nine Plus," but last year rechristened it "Project 99," taking a cue from the groups led by Sergio Mendes, from Brasil 66 to Brasil 88.) As in most such midsize ensembles, here the solos take a backseat to the written music: the mostly solid improvisers nestle into the arrangements, rather than steering them as they would in a smaller combo, and the regular members' long history together allows them to play Vente's charts with remarkable efficiency. Among the other highlights of the seventh Marshall Vente Jazz Festival, which runs through Sunday: the duo of guitarist Paulinho Garcia and saxist Greg Fishman kicks off Friday's "All Brasilian Night," and Sunday afternoon Newell will lead his crowd-pleasing New-Trad Octet--an anachronistic take on the New Orleans brass-band tradition--straight into the busy jam session that closes the weekend. Saturday, 8:30 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 630-968-3339, 630-942-4200, or 312-670-2473.

Neil Tesser

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

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