The Chicago Jazz Festival doesn't officially begin till Thursday, August 28, when Sonny Rollins plays a free show at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, but in recent years the Jazz Institute of Chicago, which programs the fest, has organized concerts in the days preceding the big blowout. On Monday night Mike Reed's People, Places & Things plays a free show in Millennium Park and on Wednesday there's a jazz-club tour.
On Tuesday night the JIC presents an odd but intriguing benefit concert at the UIC Forum. Led by saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis and trombonist Fred Wesley, both veterans of the Famous Flames, it's an homage to their old boss called The Soul of Jazz: The African Tribute to James Brown. I'm not sure how much sense the "African" part makes--Malian singer-guitarist Vieux Farka Toure and Senegalese singer-percussionist Cheikh Lo are both participating, but I can't hear much of a connection between their music and Brown's. That's not to say I don't welcome their presence--though Toure has played in town frequently in the past year or so (and will be back for Chicago's upcoming World Music Festival), a visit from Lo is a rare treat.
The other prominent contributor is jazz trumpeter Roy Hargrove (pictured), who seems a little more at home on the bill--funk is part of his DNA, and he's often incorporated it into his work. Hargrove recently released a fine album called Earfood (Emarcy), a back-to-basics quintet outing with his young, fertile band that captures him doing what he does best--straight-ahead postbop. He's spent much of the last decade pursuing stylistically diverse projects, from Cuban music to neosoul, so it's nice to hear him recommit himself to his roots.
Chicago trumpeter Corey Wilkes and his band Black Slang, abetted here by three dancers, will open the concert. Through Monday, tickets are available at a ten-dollar discount if you use the code word "soul" at ticketmaster.com.
Paal Nilssen-Love & Mats Gustafsson, Splatter (Smalltown Superjazzz)
Blue Notes, Live in South Afrika 1964 (Ogun)
Johnny Cash, Songs of Our Soil (Columbia/Legacy)
Billy Butler, The Right Tracks: The Complete Okeh Recordings 1963-1966 (Kent)
Rob Brown Quartet, Radiant Pools (Rogue Art)