Courtesy of the artist
Aurora Nealand is one of several New Orleans-based players in the Instigation Orchestra.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, several jazz musicians from New Orleans took refuge in Chicago—including trombonist Jeff Albert, bassist Matthew Golombisky, and drummer Quin Kirchner. During their stay, those three forged lasting connections with the local scene, and one product of those new relationships was a band called the Lucky 7s
. Golombisky and Kirchner, neither of whom is a Crescent City native, settled in Chicago, but Albert eventually returned south. The bonds he made here remain strong a decade later, though, and he still consistently works with Chicago players.
Chicagoans have made sojourns to New Orleans too, expanding the network. Few local players have done more to foster those connections than guitarist Steve Marquette, who formed a quintet with three New Orleans musicians: Albert, saxophonist Brad Walker, bassist Jesse Morrow, and drummer Marcello Benetti. They've toured and recorded an album, I Knew It Then
, which Marquette released on a label whose name refers to nature of the collaboration: Two Cities.
This week Marquette and dance producer Marie Casimir, who recently ended a lengthy stint with Links Hall, have organized a series of events featuring combinations of Chicago musicians and dancers with collaborators from New Orleans. The endeavor started Thursday night with a series of trio sets, but its centerpiece is Saturday at Constellation
: a performance by the Instigation Orchestra and dance troupe Djasporas (the former is an expansion of Albert's long-running Instigation Quartet
, which also draws on players from both cities). The orchestra's diverse cast of Big Easy players consists of Albert, cellist Helen Gillet, reedist-accordionist-singer Aurora Nealand, bassist James Singleton, and drummer Paul Thibodeaux. (Singleton in particular should be well-known to Chicagoans from his long membership in the jazz group Astral Project
.) On board from Chicago are Marquette, bassist Anton Hatwich, cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, vocalist Damon Locks, drummer Avreaayl Ra, and reedist Mars Williams.
Friday evening the five New Orleans musicians perform as a quintet at Heaven Gallery
, and on Sunday the Hungry Brain hosts more small-group sets
: Marquette's trio the Few (with violinist-singer Macie Stewart and drummer Julian Kirchner) will be joined by Gillet and Singleton; Albert will lead a quartet with Williams, Thibodeaux, and bassist Matthew Lux; and Nealand will perform in a beguiling trio with Chicagoans Katie Young (bassoon, electronics) and Lia Kohl (cello). Apart from Albert and Singleton, I'm not too familiar with the New Orleans musicians, but I've checked out some of their stuff over the past couple days, and it's started to make sense to me that they've found common cause. Like so many Chicago players, they share an interest in tradition and history as well as a love of forward-looking experimentation. To take one example, below is "(Suite 1) 2. Space," from a self-titled Two Cities release by Redrawblak, a trio led by Walker that features Nealand and Thibodeaux; it explores abstract space and color without surrendering pulse. That's followed by a version of the jazz standard "Limehouse Blues" from the recent Comeback Children
by Nealand's raucous group the Royal Roses, who convincingly fuse traditional jazz and swing with avant-garde flourishes. This sort of multifarious talent is alive and well in Chicago too.
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