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Fest opens with tale of 2 schools
By Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune critic
August 27, 2008
If the rest of Chicago Jazz Festival Week proves as dynamically creative as Monday night's opener in Millennium Park, there will be remarkable listening ahead.
Conceived by one of Chicago's most promising young musicians, the evening merged two generations of instrumentalists to often stunning effect.
At the core of the music-making was Chicago drummer Mike Reed's innovative People, Places and Things band. Each of its players thrives at the razor's edge of the Chicago jazz avant-garde, and each commands a following of his own. If this unit had held the stage alone, listeners would have savored its free-ranging improvisations.
But Reed boldly expanded his band for this occasion to an octet, with three elder statesmen joining the front line. Any ensemble that spotlights veterans Art Hoyle on trumpet, Ira Sullivan on tenor saxophone and Julian Priester on trombone commands instant respect among jazz connoisseurs.
Add to the mix a younger generation of players—including Reed, bassist Jason Roebke and saxophonists Greg Ward and Tim Haldeman—and you have the makings of an incendiary chemical reaction.
The surprise, though, came in the nature of the evening's music, which was meticulously scored to achieve particular orchestral effects. Specifically, Reed sought to conjure the sound and the spirit of Chicago hard-bop of the 1950s and '60s, an aesthetic that Hoyle, Sullivan and Priester epitomize. But Reed went a step further, juxtaposing the vintage idiom with the free-form techniques of 21st Century jazz.
The result was music that cast two distinct schools of jazz against one another, the tunes shifting dramatically from past to present. Moreover, Reed and his young colleagues embraced the historic music with unexpected fluency.
At their best, these eight players addressed new works and long-standing ones with equal vitality. The tension between trombonist Jeb Bishop and the rest of the band in Sun Ra's "El is a Sound of Joy" and the gorgeous horn-choir passages in John Jenkins' "Song of a Star" showed the expressive range of this band. So, too, did the sighing blues phrases from trumpeter Hoyle, the still-explosive bebop virtuosity of saxophonist Sullivan and the penetrating tone and outsized presence of saxophonist Ward.
More than 2,500 applauded this dream band.