The Reader's guide to the 2012 Umbrella Music Festival 

Chicago's bravest jazz fest features Sven-Ake Johansson, William Parker, Fred Van Hove, Joe Morris, and many more

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Friday, November 9, Elastic, $20

Darius Jones Trio

Galvanizing, adventurous New York saxophonist Darius Jones leads an excellent trio with bassist Adam Lane and drummer Jason Nazary, who also plays with Jones in the ferocious collective Little Women. 9 PM

Joe Morris

Joe Morris Umbrella Music Festival
  • Joe Morris
  • Ralph Gibson

Joe Morris is one of the most distinctive and original guitarists in the history of jazz. A musician of rare focus and determination, he almost never plays chords, and his tone is austere, dry, and brittle. His long-form improvisations unfold slowly, even when the notes come in dizzying flurries. On Altitude (Aum Fidelity), a recent trio album with bassist William Parker and drummer Gerald Cleaver, he favors the electric guitar's upper register, playing phrases so tightly clenched that they sometimes feel knotty; listen with wider ears, though, and they form generous, undulating arcs of sound. On the remarkable Singularity, a solo acoustic release from 2002, Morris sounds like a small African string ensemble: in one many wonderfully dense moments on the album, a rapid arpeggio gives way to a droning thrum, a single-string snap, and a delicate two-note melody. Trying to follow the threads—and figure out how Morris is playing them all—is enough to make your head swim. His zigzagging improvisations unfold coils of clean notes and damped-string half-tones, and his broken yet lyrical melodies sound like something from a shattered John Fahey record that's been glued back together wrong. Morris gives a rare solo performance tonight. 10 PM

Chicago Underground Duo

Chicago cornetist Rob Mazurek has been so busy with a slew of diverse projects—Sao Paulo Underground, Starlicker, Pulsar Quartet, Exploding Star Orchestra—that it's easy to forget about his long-running duo with percussionist Chad Taylor, which got started in 1997 and helped first expose him to international audiences. Now that Taylor lives in New York, the Chicago Underground Duo doesn't play out too often, but the recent Age of Energy (Northern Spy) proves that the band retains its vital multistylistic thrust. The album uses a lot of electronics (including electronically manipulated vocals on "It's Alright"), but Taylor remains the band's engine, playing acoustic drums and (on "Castle in Your Heart") kalimba. Most of the songs hypnotize with swirling, cyclical rhythms, but on the title track Mazurek and Taylor rip it up old-school, with explosive free-jazz drumming and clarion-clear horn improvisations whose blaring frenzy doesn't obscure their cogently structured melodies. 11 PM

Saturday, November 10, Hideout, $20, 21+

Pandelis Karayorgis Quintet

Boston pianist and composer Pandelis Karayorgis formed this Chicago-based quintet—with bassist Nate McBride, drummer Frank Rosaly, and reedists Keefe Jackson and Dave Rempis—to play new music inspired by the classic Tony Williams album Spring, which also features Sam Rivers. But this sleek combo has its own sound, as it proved at its debut performance in January at Heaven Gallery. Rempis and Jackson's divergent tones and styles make for a wonderful sweet-salty clash, and Karayorgis seems to have the influence of cooler pianists like Lennie Tristano and Herbie Nichols coursing through his blood, which gives the music a lot of space and dynamic contrast. The band's debut album, Circuitous, is due in the spring from Hatology, and it promises to be one of 2013's best. 9 PM

Adolphe's Ax

Cameron Pfiffner, coleader of Green Mill mainstays Sabertooth, fronts this saxophone sextet; the lineup also includes Anthony Bruno, Nick Mazzarella, Caroline Davis, Nate Lepine, and Juli Wood. 10 PM

William Parker's In Order to Survive

Brilliant free-jazz bassist William Parker combines driving improvisation with the fundamentals of hard bop in this scrappy band, which now includes pianist and instrument inventor Cooper-Moore. Trumpeter Lewis "Flip" Barnes and alto saxophonist Rob Brown form a potent front line, invested in the music's past as thoroughly as they are in its future. The group's regular drummer is the irrepressible Hamid Drake, who makes every group he plays with sound better, but for tonight's gig he'll be replaced by William Hooker, who has fewer technical resources and a blunter attack. 11 PM

Sunday, November 11, Hungry Brain, $15 suggested donation, 21+

Fred Van Hove

Fred Van Hove Umbrella Music Festival
  • Fred Van Hove
  • Gerard Rouy

Belgian pianist Fred Van Hove is a key avatar of European free jazz, and like Swedish percussionist Sven-Ake Johansson (who plays a solo concert on Thursday), he also appears on many important early recordings, including Peter Brötzmann's game-changing 1968 album Machine Gun. Also like Johansson, he retains a profound engagement with earlier jazz styles: some of the pieces on The Complete Vogel Recordings (Unheard Music), a collection of Van Hove's work from the early 70s, include thunderous boogie-woogie figures. Solo improvising has been part of his arsenal for more than four decades, and in that context he can get seriously heavy: his insistent left hand shapes ominous block chords, while his right plays stark shards of melody or splattery clusters of notes, with an emphasis on glassy dissonance and hammering intensity. This is Van Hove's first local appearance since 1999. 9 PM

Harrison Bankhead Sextet

Bassist Harrison Bankhead has anchored countless Chicago groups over the years, including Edward Wilkerson Jr.'s 8 Bold Souls and the Indigo Trio, and last year he finally released his debut as a leader—the sublime sextet effort Morning Sun Harvest Moon (Engine), which mixed sharp writing and arrangements with extended passages of improvised group interplay. The band—reedist Wilkerson, saxophonist Mars Williams, violinist James Sanders, and percussionists Avreeayl Ra and Ernie Adams—doesn't perform often enough for my tastes, and it's sure to close this year's festival on a high note. 10 PM

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