Winard Harper Sextet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Winard Harper Sextet 

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Like his model Art Blakey, 42-year-old drummer Winard Harper leads his band with a remarkable combination of flamboyant rhythms and an almost invisible pulse: he disappears behind his sidemen's solo statements, except for the split second when a burst of percussion provides the punctuation. He's followed Blakey's legacy in other ways too. The Jazz Messengers provided an invaluable training ground for three generations of future bandleaders--from Horace Silver and Johnny Griffin in the 50s to Wayne Shorter and Freddie Hubbard in the 60s to the Marsalis brothers and Terence Blanchard in the 80s--and from the formation of his first band in the mid-80s (with his brother Philip on trumpet), Harper has sought to create a similar launchpad for young mainstreamers. His current sextet has future star Jeb Patton on piano; Patrick Rickman, a brash trumpeter in the strong-willed style of Freddie Hubbard; and the fluid saxist Brian Horton. The band's forthcoming live recording, Come Into the Light (Savant), reveals a lively, well-rounded group eager to stretch their abilities. Like the Messengers', Harper's repertoire relies heavily on new compositions from band members while mixing in a few standards and jazz chestnuts. But unlike Blakey, Harper writes some of the tunes himself, and in a radical departure for a drummer with such a strong command of both the beat and its permutations, his sextet includes a separate percussionist: Alioune Faye plays the djembe and its cousin the sabar, freeing up Harper to join in occasionally on balafon. Tuesday, March 23, through Thursday, March 25, 8 and 10 PM, Friday and Saturday, March 26 and 27, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, March 28, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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