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Jazz Fest Swings Into Grant Park

By Staff in Arts & Entertainment on Sep 2, 2011 7:00PM

The Chicago Jazz Festival kicked off yesterday (and please read our interview with Jazz Institute of Chicago Executive Director Lauren Deutsch if you missed it). What's surprised us about this year's festival is how solid the bills look like every day and how the city has managed to incorporate both Millennium and Grant Parks into this year's edition.

Hosting two nights of concerts at Pritzker Pavilion now seems like a case of timely planning, as Grant Park is only now starting to return to its pre-Lollapalooza form. For us Jazz Fest, like turning the calendar from August to September, is as much a sign that summer is on her way out as any weather predictor or the last of the tomatoes on the vine. We've put together some picks for this year's fest you shouldn't miss.

- Today's festivities kick off at 5 p.m. in Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall with local legend Orbert Davis, this year’s artist-in-residence at the festival, and his trio. Chicago native Brandon McCune returns home from the New York City area for piano duty. A trumpet trio is somewhat of an odd beast, but Davis’ will make you wonder why there aren’t more. Probably because talent like McCune’s, Davis’ and bassist Stewart Miller’s is rare.

Orbert Davis will also appear Saturday night with the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble (7:10-8:10 p.m. at Petrillo Music Shell), and Sunday afternoon with his quintet (1:10 - 2:05 p.m. at the Jazz on Jackson stage) and with his Jazz Academy from 3-3:30 p.m. at the Chicago Community Trust Young Jazz Lions Stage.

- Pritzker Pavilion at 6:00 p.m. to catch another Chicago jazz institution: The Deep Blue Organ Trio. There’s a lot of soul in the Hammond B-3 organ, and Chris Foreman knows just how to bring it out. Guitarist Bobby Broom played Carnegie Hall with Sonny Rollins and Donald Byrd as a teenager in 1977 and has long since come into his own as a spirited, melodic guitarist. It all cooks over Greg Rockingham’s exceptionally solid drumming. Bobby Watson, alto saxophonist and former Jazz Messenger, will round out Deep Blue to a quartet for their festival set. Expect a sizzling show befitting the summer heat today.

And for the night’s main act: Is three saxophones too many? It might be, if the three musicians behind them weren’t Joe Lovano, David Liebman and Ravi Coltrane. Saxophone Summit is a gathering of sax all-stars that has been evolving under Liebman’s de facto leadership since 1997. The recent addition of Coltrane affirms the group’s commitment to honoring the pioneering spirit of Ravi’s late father, jazz icon John Coltrane.

Ravi’s style is very much his own, but as a trio the summit approaches a spiritual intensity like that of its renowned inspiration. At times the three are powerfully elegant, layering soulful harmonies over the sextet’s noteworthy rhythm section: pianist Phil Markowitz, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Billy Hart. Other times the Summit spins out into a riotous free jazz squonk-fest, something which one might find either obnoxious or sublime, expressive and joyously unpredictable.

Saxophone Summit takes the stage at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion 8-9:30 p.m. — Chris Bentley

- Mike Reed is a busy guy. And that’s why he almost passed on the Myth/Science project.

It’s not much of a secret anymore that Reed is an integral part of putting together each summer's Pitchfork Music Festival (which he’ll have you know is a year-round job) and Downtown Sound Series, but he is grounded in Chicago’s flourishing improvised music scene coordinating a Sunday night series at Hungry Brain and the annual Umbrella Music Festival. He’s also an accomplished drummer seeing success with his own band People, Places and Things.

The Myth/Science Assembly started as a request from the Experimental Sound Studio to “create a performance that in some way used or was inspired by material contained in the 700 hours of the Sun Ra/El Saturn Audio Collection.” After teaming up with musician and composer Jason Adasiewicz, they decided to spin the original idea a little bit, using the unfinished, unwanted and abandoned material on one rehearsal tape marked “NY 1961” to create new music. As Reed says, “it doesn't matter who's tapes these are, it's just source material, in this case it happens to be Sun Ra.” While Reed may have started the concept, he makes a point to tell us that the execution and orchestration was all Adasiewicz. The assembly of musicians put together for the project (comprised largely of members of Reed’s Loose Assembly) make their debut at Jazz Fest. — Michelle Meywes

- Saturday's night's lineup at the Petrillo Music Shell is loaded for bear, with something for both hardcore jazzbos and casual listeners. the night's closer, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, will appeal to both. The Mississippi native, with her smoky contralto, sings at her own pace. And it's a pace that's slower than sap flowing from a tree. Wilson's style is a mélange of jazz phrasing, delta blues and country inflections that takes on an ethereal quality as the songs unfold. This, readers, is the date night act.

- Saxophonist Ernest Dawkins has been a local mainstay in jazz clubs throughout the city and an integral part of the Association for the Advancement for Creative Musicians collective (AACM). Like many AACM acts, Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble serves as a bridge between newer creative music, jazz and its African percussive roots. The group can alternate between the hardest of bop or blow free on a riff for hours. (2-3 p.m. Sunday at the Cricket Wireless Jazz and Heritage Stage) — Chuck Sudo