Rhythm & Brass | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Rhythm & Brass 

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RHYTHM & BRASS

Musicians never tire of "Caravan," the famous 1937 bijou written by Ellington Orchestra trombonist Juan Tizol: it's been grist for everyone from nouveau swing bands to contemporary Latin-jazz outfits. Even Rhythm & Brass--a hip, eclectic sextet parading in the guise of a classically trained brass-and-percussion ensemble--is not immune to its charms. But the group does find a different route through this well-traveled tune. Instead of the Latin rhythms implicit in the melody, R & B concocts something that's equal parts New Orleans two-step, Nigerian juju, and Steve Martin's "King Tut," an unlikely marriage of hip-hop's urgent cool and the frenzied mystique of Mardi Gras. "Caravan" appears on R & B's latest CD, More Money Jungle...Ellington Explorations (Koch), which features arrangements that range from reverential to inventive. They all hit the mark, making a better case for Ellington's timeless modernism than I expect to hear from most other tributes coming down the pike in honor of the ducal centennial. Such revelations are surprising from an outfit that--while comfortable with everything from 16th-century motets to the repertoire of Miles Davis's nonets to late-20th-century classical commissions--commands so little name recognition in the jazz world. The best pedigree among the members belongs to trumpeter Rex Richardson, whose heated high-note work and spiraling solos made him a welcome fixture on the Chicago scene earlier this decade. But the other trumpeter, Wiff Rudd, can growl and smear with the best, and trombonist Tom Brantley adds a virile solo voice in the Ellington tradition. Charles Villarrubia's tuba, which takes the place of a string bass, folds the rhythm section back into the brass sonorities, and Alex Shuhan, a French horn player who doubles on piano, manages a quite defensible imitation of Ellington's keyboard style whenever the situation warrants. Friday, noon, Jazz Record Mart, 444 N. Wabash; 312-222-1467. Saturday, 8 PM, Dorothy Menker Theater, Fine and Performing Arts Center, Moraine Valley Community College, 10900 S. 88th, Palos Hills; 708-974-5500. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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