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Oscar Brown Jr. & Dee Alexander

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If there were a griot laureate of Chicago, the position would probably belong to Oscar Brown Jr. Brown speaks for the African-American everyman. In his lyrics and poems his themes include the bittersweet joys of fatherhood ("Dat Dere," written for his son, the late Oscar "Bobo" Brown III, when Bobo was a boy), the battle of the sexes ("The Snake," "Ladiesman"), the horrors of ghetto life (the searing "Chant of the Welfare Mothers"), and the legacy of slavery ("Forty Acres and a Mule"). His plays reveal a similarly wide-ranging vision: his early-60s musical Kicks & Co. examined the civil rights movement; Journey Through Forever confronted the fears and paradoxes of growing old; The Great Nitty Gritty, first mounted in the early 80s and revived by Brown a few years ago, was an angry yet compassionate take on life in Chicago's housing projects. Brown's performance style, whether in song or spoken word, combines conversational ease with understated but solidly in-the-pocket swing. He'll be performing here with vocalist Dee Alexander and Malachi Thompson & the Freebop Band. Alexander's appearances on Thompson's Delmark CDs showcase her range and flexibility: she modulates effortlessly from a croon to a gospel-blues shout, capable of negotiating Thompson's octave-leaping, bebop-infused melodies as unerringly as the horn players around her, and such is her rhythmic sureness that she can swing even on a line like "The culture is big business in the black economy" (from the title tune of 1997's 47th Street). Friday, March 21, 9:30 PM, and Saturday, 22, 10 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452.

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