The 2009 Chicago Jazz Festival kicks off on Friday of Labor Day weekend in Grant Park. Unsurprisingly, the 31st annual event includes plenty of exciting, diverse talent, from a former Miles Davis collaborator to a trio of prominent local improvisers. You shouldn't have to work hard to figure out who's worth seeing during your vacation weekend, so relax and check out our picks for each day of the free extravaganza.
Hungry for more than jazz? Find a place to feast for less near Grant Park.
Friday, September 4
Fareed Haque and the Flat Earth Ensemble
(Jazz on Jackson Stage, 1:10–2:05 p.m.)
Following a CD release in early May, guitarist Fareed Haque gets the festival grooving with his unique blend of jazz technique, classical undercurrent, and fusion and jam sensibilities. Led by Haque, the Flat Earth Ensemble also blends North Indian folk to his compelling musical mixture.
Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown (Jazz on Jackson Stage, 2:20–3:15 p.m.)
Vibraphone virtuoso and revered collaborator Jason Adasiewicz issued his long-awaited debut as a bandleader last year under the auspices of Rolldown, a taut quartet that utilizes the abilities of other acclaimed improvisers and composers in Chicago's thriving avant-jazz scene. As the group prepares a sophomore release for the end of September, concertgoers are treated to its wandering, melodic passages.
Jeff Parker Quartet (Petrillo Music Shell, 5–5:50 p.m.)
As one of the city's preeminent jazz guitarists, Jeff Parker has graced countless collaborations and improvisations across Chicago, from the Velvet Lounge to his weekly gig at Rodan. He remains best known for his work in jazzy, electro-infused post-rock group Tortoise, but his full-blown jazz performances encompass the vast majority of his work. Here he performs with his quartet, which last released an album in early 2005.
The Trio f. Muhal Richard Abrams, George Lewis, and Roscoe Mitchell (Petrillo Music Shell, 6-6:55 p.m.) Featuring three prominent members of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), The Trio boasts a powerful triumvirate of improvisatory talent. Pianist/multi-instrumentalist Muhal Richard Abrams, trombonist George Lewis and multi-instrumentalist Roscoe Mitchell gather for one of the finest evening performances of the festival.
Saturday, September 5 Greg Ward's Fitted Shards
(Jazz on Jackson Stage, noon-12:55 p.m.)
Saxophonist Greg Ward has a decadent resume for only being in his mid-20s. His skills give exceptional balance to the electronically tinted and rhythmically based Blink. and complement many other outfits around town. Ward leads a number of additional groups, and for Fitted Shards, he has tabbed keyboardist Rob Clearfield and Blink. bandmates Quin Kirchner (drums) and Jeff Greene (bass).
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings (Jazz on Jackson Stage, 2:20-3:15 p.m.)
A master musician and professor in the Chicagoland area, Nicole Mitchell is a paramount voice of jazz flute in the Midwest. Her melodic, whirlwind runs are a hallmark, flavoring her sundry creations and those of other luminous coconspirators. This chamber edition of one of her most lauded creations, Black Earth Ensemble, establishes a playful oeuvre that calls on African rhythms as well as a jazz-rock kit. The group's great studio debut, Renegades, was released on Delmark in May.
80th-birthday jam w/ Fred Anderson (Petrillo Music Shell, 5-5:50 p.m.)
Following a mid-August celebration of his status as an octogenarian, freewheeling saxophonist and local legend Fred Anderson returns to Grant Park for another hurrah with special guests. He officially hit the big 8-0 in March, but now Anderson's milestone is commemorated at the city's biggest jazz event.
Dave Holland Big Band (Petrillo Music Shell, 8:30–9:30 p.m.)
British bassist/composer Dave Holland has spent nearly 40 years creating or partaking in influential works, including performances on Miles Davis's landmark albums In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew. His big band is a well-endowed ensemble, belting colorful riffs from a horned frontline and keeping a cool backbeat with a steady rhythm section. For feel-good sounds of yore, don't miss this.
Sunday, September 6 James Falzone's Klang: The Goodman Project
(Jazz on Jackson Stage, 2:20-3:15 p.m.)
Chicago clarinetist/composer James Falzone is a gem in a robust jazz mine, merging dynamic improv chops with classical compositions and a reverence for musical traditions. His Klang quartet is jazzier than his normal fare, stemming from Falzone's fondness for 1950s saxophonist/clarinetist Jimmy Giuffre. Here he leads the group, whose excellent album, Tea Music
, was just released, in homage to the "King of Swing," clarinetist Benny Goodman.
Muhal Richard Abrams & The Arthur Hoyle Orchestra: "Spiralview"
Muhal Richard Abrams
(Petrillo Music Shell, 8:30–9:30 p.m.)
Muhal Richard Abrams, a revered composer and the first president of the AACM, has been a mainstay in Chicago's vibrant jazz scene for more than five decades. His special and newest commissioned composition, "Spiralview," is dedicated to President Obama and makes its world premiere to close out the 31st annual jazz festival.