Mike Smith | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Mike Smith 

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Altoist Mike Smith has been largely shaped by the music of Cannonball Adderley, and he remains dedicated to that model--both the music and the commentary on his two Delmark recordings leave no doubt of the lineage. But while Smith hardly could have chosen a more inspired influence, his new album (On a Cool Night) moves beyond the limitations of that categorization. Long regarded as among the most fluent and electrifying saxophonists in town, Smith almost makes it sound easy; and as he strips away the few remaining cliches and strives for purer and purer melody, his fluency becomes the tool for a new level of artistic discourse (a progression that's also marked the careers of Art Pepper and Lee Konitz). His well-schooled quintet--with the marvelous trumpeter Ron Friedman and a rhythm section built on drummer Bob Rummage's capable shoulders--deserves its own mention: they're a tight enough unit to play as loose as they want. Oh sure, Smith still plays songs from the Adderley repertoire, and occasionally even performs with the late saxman's brother. But these days, his expression of Cannonball takes the form of essences: searing blue-white tone, technical authority that verges on arrogance, and a rhythmic excitement that catapults his lines off the stage. (His main gig--as lead man for Frank Sinatra's accompanying orchestra--keeps him on the road much of the year, and his weekly appearances at Andy's are no sure thing; catch him while you can.) Thursday, 5-8:30 PM, Andy's, 11 E. Hubbard; 642-6805.

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