Tribute to Leon Forrest | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Tribute to Leon Forrest 

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The death last week of literary lion Leon Forrest--educated at the U. of C., later chairman of African-American studies at Northwestern, and described as an American James Joyce and "the black Faulkner"--will train an extra spotlight on this program, which was in fact begun more than a year ago. Chicago actress Catherine Slade worked with Forrest in extrapolating passages from his first novel, There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, weaving them into a program based on the book's female characters; it grew to include a score by reedist and composer Henry Threadgill, who will play it here with pianist Kirk Brown, cellist Joey Harvey, and Bill Close and Steve Barsotti, who'll perform on invented instruments. A leading light of the AACM during his years in Chicago, Threadgill remains among that organization's most accomplished improvisers, with a hot urgency to his alto saxophone and an excited buzz to his flute work. He has dipped deeply into sources both expected and eyebrow raising for his compositions, placing parade music alongside the blues, forcing this mixture through a typically idiosyncratic view of jazz fusion featuring electric guitars and two tubas, and most recently using his new surroundings--he lives in India--to color his music in surprising ways. And Forrest's work lends itself to this collaboration more than most: he never hesitated to describe the influence of music on his writing, which Slade now describes as a "literary counterpart to great jazz music in its ability to bring together and reinvent the complex currents of African-American life." The performance is part of Steppenwolf's Traffic series. Monday, 7:30 PM, Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted; 312-335-1650. Neil Tesser

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Henry Threadgill photo by Roger Tully.

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