Music » Critic's Choice

Willie Pickens Quintet




Willie Pickens's long-term engagement as the pianist in Elvin Jones's Jazz Machine gave listeners around the world a taste of his burly chords and spiky, spinning solo lines, which for years bore the unmistakable stamp of McCoy Tyner--and that may be what attracted Jones, who played with Tyner in John Coltrane's quartet, in the first place. But the last decade has seen Pickens flower as both a pianist and a leader. You can hear it in his willingness to step back from the brink of virtuosity--to not fill all the space with notes, to slow down his melodies and let them breathe--and you can see it in this archetypal hard-bop quintet, in which he leads a veteran rhythm section and showcases two talented newcomers. Trumpeter Tito Carillo's reputation got a big boost in 1996 from his work in both Latin and mainstream bands; more recently he's proven his mettle in Bradley Williams's Original 21st Century Review. His fiery tone and leapfrogging lyricism recall Lee Morgan and Freddie Hubbard. Saxist Todd Herbert also plays with fire, but it comes out of his fingers; his heated improvisations contrast with the 1950s cool of his tone. Behind them, the redoubtable bassist Marlene Rosenberg works hand in glove with Robert Shy, the drummer whose intuitive rhythm bursts still amaze even those of us who've heard him play for more than 25 years. Herbert's move to New York earlier this year seemed certain to curtail this band's future development, so his holiday visit home is truly cause for celebration. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by B.P. Sparrow.

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