Festival Review: HYDE PARK

The New York City Jazz Record

By Mark Keresman

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When it comes to jazz, Chicago is one of THE American cities, with a vibrant and varied local scene. It also has one of the nation’s great annual festivals, but there’s another, not as well known, deserving attention. The city’s Hyde Park section (home to the University of Chicago) hosts a two-day festival (Sep. 29th-30th) with varied talent of both local (The Chicago Yestet, DJ Sadie Woods, Kenwood Academy Jazz Band directed by Gerald Powell, Mike Reed, Maggie Brown) and national (Kris Davis, Ryan Cohan, Christian Sands) renown. Performance venues are both indoors and outdoors, all within a five-block radius and all performances are free (except one). It’s easily accessible by public transit and for those unfamiliar with the area, there are free shuttle buses to transport listeners to various venues. At a couple of points on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons it began to rain. A core of devoted listeners (perhaps as many as 80 or so), some with umbrellas, some not, waited it out and kept enjoying the outdoor concert at the time.

Somewhat rare are the jazz instrumentalists who concentrate on the harp. Brandee Younger is one; earlier in the day before her set at Hyde Park Union Church, she hosted a talk on the subject of fellow harpist Alice Coltrane. Classically trained, Younger is conversant with assorted styles. She seamlessly melded delectable, classically-based technique with assertiveness and improvisational sass accompanied by flutist Anne Drummond and bassist Rashaan Carter. Some of the pieces played were from the catalogue of the legendary Dorothy Ashby (1932-86), who established the harp as a jazz instrument. Younger’s plucks were stark and crystalline, other times evocative of electronically- generated sounds, yet others swinging bebop.

While some musicians ascribe to a less-is-more aesthetic, local duo Thaddeus Tukes (vibraphone) and Alexis Lombré (piano) took the opposite tack at Augustana Lutheran Church. Both unleashed a deluge of notes but, instead of coming off as cluttered or excessive, achieved an opulent, nearly orchestral tone. Both play very lyrically and with an indomitable sense of swing. Tukes played with the hearty blues feel of Milt Jackson and Lombré had a genial simplicity strong on tunefulness. This room was packed with a very enthusiastic crowd and who could blame them?

Drummer Allison Miller led her Boom Tic Boom, a band of unique versatility and might, at Wagner Stage on the Midway. Like Matt Wilson, Miller plays with the finesse of jazz and irreverent whomp of rock. Boom Tic Boom was an uptempo mélange of postbop, fusion and avant garde, loaded with plenty of quirky tunes and textures, urgent dynamics and to-the-point soloing. The band was aces: Kirk Knuffke’s cornet playing encompassed almost the whole of jazz history, from the brass bands of New Orleans to bop and beyond, pushing the horn’s limits while maintaining swing and warmth. Ben Goldberg, clarinet and bass clarinet, with his rich, pliant sound, is one of today’s major voices on those instruments.

Trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah is proudly part of a jazz dynasty—he’s the nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison and he’s embraced virtually the whole of N’awlins cultural traditions. Scott’s band at West Stage had a very distinctive sound, his trumpet paired with Elena Pinderhughes’ flute in the frontline. The combination made for distinctive unison voicings; furthermore, Scott ran his trumpet through a bank of electronic effects with searing (and sometimes painfully, piercingly loud) results. His band’s approach mixed forceful, funky grooves with snappy hardbop on engaging Latin-accented melodies. This lot had a goodly number of people dancing.

Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane’s sound does not so much resemble that of his father as evoke his spirit and at Rockefeller Chapel he essayed music composed by his mother. The mood was predominantly meditative yet the leader artfully inserted some dramatic tension and release throughout. The only downside was that Younger’s shimmering harp was occasionally overwhelmed sonically by the saxophone. Despite that, this set was a beautiful experience where spiritual and earthly aspects of life briefly meshed. The audience was audibly moved.

Terry Callier (1945-2012) was a Chicago singer/ songwriter whose career spanned decades and whose style spanned folk, R&B and jazz. Typically, such eclecticism means plenty of critical acclaim, cult hero- status (especially in the UK) and not-great record sales. Dee Alexander is a Chicago jazz singer with a slightly husky and very expressive voice, one that she uses to enrich the songs, not show off her technique. She wrapped that voice around Callier’s very emotional, often wise lyrics at Wagner Stage with the tribute “What Color is Love—The Music of Terry Callier”. Stylistically it’s not easy to put an tag upon Alexander’s set. She was backed by a very spirited and flexible quintet featuring Tomeka Reid on cello, adding a touch of string-section filigree to the proceedings. Alexander’s set, at times fusion and postbop with touches of sophisticated pop, was one of the festival’s true highlights.

At Logan Center Performance Hall, pianist Jason Moran celebrated Chicago pianists/mentors Willie Pickens and Muhal Richard Abrams, both who passed away in 2017. It was truly a Chicago jazz history lesson as both made major marks on the city’s musical continuum as performers and incubators of talent. Pickens was one of the last of the original bebop-era players while Abrams was one of the founders of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. Moran was joined for a couple of numbers by Pickens’ pianist daughter Bethany, both who regaled the audience with stories. Moran wowed the crowd with works by (and associated with) classy old- school Pickens and Abrams’ percussive waves of complex chords, displaying tremendous technical ability leavened with warmth and humor. It was the last concert of the festival, a knock-out conclusion in high style. Jazz fans throughout America and beyond: know this festival.

For more information, visit hydeparkjazzfestival.org

Olivia JunellComment