Jazz All Over the Place

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Brad Mehldau
  • Brad Mehldau
Over the next 24 hours Chicago will play host to three heavyweight jazz and improvised-music concerts. Unfortunately it'll be hard to see them all; one's already sold out, and another happens during the lunch hour tomorrow. The ICP Orchestra, who I wrote about in this week's paper, play a free concert tonight at the Chicago Cultural Center; sadly, pianist and cofounder Misha Mengelberg won't be present (he returned home to Amsterdam this past week, suffering from fatigue), but the other nine musicians can be counted on to deliver a knockout performance. If you're not familiar with these Dutch masters, then skip to the bottom of the post for the riotous video to "Steigerpijp," one of many great tunes from last year's ICP Orchestra (ICP). The other two shows? The Brad Mehldau Trio at SPACE in Evanston later tonight and the Ullmann/Swell 4 tomorrow afternoon at the Chicago Cultural Center. More on them after the jump.

Mehldau's sold-out show is with his long-running trio (bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard), and if you scored tickets, congratulations—the group rarely plays such intimate venues these days. (Last summer they performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival.) Mehldau's newest release, Live in Marciac (Nonesuch), is a sprawling solo performance cut at a big fest in France in August 2006; it captures the prodigious pianist's full range, delving deep into moody, classically inspired ballads, pop and rock tunes (by his beloved Radiohead as well as Nick Drake, Nirvana, and the Beatles), and even some jazz standards (including an unusually jubilant take on the Bobby Timmons classic "Dat Dere"). At various points in his career Mehldau has allowed his rhapsodic playing to get a little soporific, but lately he's developed an impressive intensity, favoring rhythmic alacrity and density of line over his old post-Keith Jarrett introversion. Live in Marciac also includes a DVD of the performance, but the visuals are only slightly more exciting than watching paint dry; simply listening is better. Below you can hear Mehldau's take on "My Favorite Things."

There's nothing introspective about the Ullmann/Swell 4, a brawny transatlantic free-jazz quartet fronted by German reedist Gebhard Ullmann and New York trombonist Steve Swell. The horn men have worked together regularly over the past decade in a variety of contexts, including Ullmann's Basement Research band (which has featured Chicago drummer Tim Daisy of late). Swell in particular has been no stranger around these parts, and recently played in Ken Vandermark's Resonance Ensemble. For me the most exciting thing about this band (which also includes bassist Hilliard Greene) is the presence of Barry Altschul, one of the most exciting drummers of the 70s—and an infrequent visitor to Chicago. He played with Paul Bley, Circle (with Chick Corea and Anthony Braxton), and many notable figures in the New York loft-jazz scene of the time, and on the quartet’s latest album, News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt), he proves he hasn't lost his touch—he keeps time, plays with tempos, adds coloration, and drops sparse but meaningful accents, all with a big, crisp sound. Tuesday's concert is free. Below you can check out Swell's composition "More Hello" from the new album.

ICP Orchestra, "Steigerpijp":

Brad Mehldau, "My Favorite Things":

Ullmann/Swell 4, "More Hello":

Brad Mehldau photo: Augusta Quirk

Today's playlist:

Myra Melford's Be Bread, The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12)
Evan Caminiti, West Winds (Three Lobed)
Hector Rivera y Su Orquesta, . . . Y Vuelve (West Side Latino/Fania)
Dungen, Skit I Allt (Mexican Summer)
Frank Sinatra, Strangers in the Night (Concord)

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