by Peter Margasak
When: Sat., Sept. 26 and Sun., Sept. 27
The annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival takes another leap in quality this year, offering the strongest program of its nearly decade-long history. Especially since expanding from one to two days in 2011, the fest has been an excellent scope through which to view Chicago’s dynamic mainstream jazz scene—and this edition is no exception. Organist Chris Foreman performs with his quartet, pianist Laurence Hobgood plays a solo set, trumpeter Pharez Whitted’s group lays down soulful postbop, and local legend Willie Pickens gets behind the piano for a closing set on Sunday. Plus, now that it’s under the direction of Kate Dumbleton, the Hyde Park Jazz Festival has stretched its stylistic reach toward more adventurous sounds. One of this year’s unofficial themes is the play of duos, and there are plenty of intriguing pairings, several featuring musicians who work together regularly; the setup allows players to hone in on interactions and suss out shared ideas that might be harder to explore within a large ensemble. Highlights include guitarist Jeff Parkerwith reedist Geof Bradfield, alto saxophonist Nick Mazzarella with drummer Dana Hall, and guitarist Mike Allemana with bassist Matt Ferguson. The slate of national talent is also strong, but the set I’m most excited to hear features brilliant composer, reedist, and leader Henry Threadgill playing with the marvelous, wildly inventive young Cuban pianist David Virelles. Equally promising is the world premiere ofAmbrose Akinmusire’s Banyan, a work that examines the importance of oral transmission in the history of jazz. The remarkable trumpeter leads a superb 12-piece band. Eleven of the weekend’s dozen venues—including the Oriental Institute, Hyde Park Bank, and the Smart Museum of Art—fall within a square of Hyde Park no more than five blocks a side. Admission is first come, first served, and some of the smaller spaces will likely be forced to turn people away, though the “Jazz Pass” guarantees preferred seating for indoor concerts.
— Peter Margasak