The rise of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival | Bleader

The rise of the Hyde Park Jazz Festival

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Miguel Zenon
  • Miguel Zenon
The Hyde Park Jazz Festival, founded in 2007, has never pretended to be comprehensive either geographically or stylistically (the majority of the performers play variations on postbop, which is "mainstream" to most ears), but it's always presented what might be the best single-day opportunity to brush up Chicago's jazz scene. The free multivenue event is consistently loaded with talent, but this year, under the hand of new director Kate Dumbleton, it's even better. The fest now spans two days, with five sets on Sunday in addition to well over 30 on Saturday; the bill also includes some relatively musically adventurous acts, as well as a number of local groups that live and (usually) work outside the south-side scene (among them Sun Rooms and the Zach Brock Trio). There are also a few nonlocals on the schedule, including superb trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, who leads a quintet on Sunday afternoon at 1 PM, and remarkable Puerto Rican saxophonist Miguel Zenon, who plays a rare solo set on Saturday night at Rockefeller Chapel.

Zenon, a 2008 MacArthur fellow, has focused most of his creative energies lately on ambitious, programmatic efforts, including a series of recordings recasting musical traditions of his homeland and "Puerto Rico Nació en Mi: Tales From the Diaspora," a multimedia work exploring similar ideas. Earlier this summer he released a collaborative album with French pianist Laurent Coq called Rayuela (Sunnyside), which takes its name and inspiration from a novel by Argentine writer Julio Cortázar. Though elements from the story were used to compose the music, there aren’t any clear references to place-rooted styles in the songs (the story happens in Buenos Aires and Paris), but they're terrific by any standard. The music features a versatile band, with Dana Leong doubling on cello and trombone and Dan Weiss alternating between trap kit and tabla, which gives the music a broader palette. Below you can check out "La Muerte de Rocamadour," one of Zenon's compositions.


I don't know if he's planning any particular slant to his solo concert, which closes Saturday night's activities at 11 PM, but he's never given a solo recital in Chicago before, and the gorgeous high-ceilinged interior of the Rockefeller ought to be a simpatico setting. Also worth catching on Saturday: Chicago native Greg Ward presenting the local debut of his rugged trio Phonic Juggernaut (with drummer Damion Reed) at 2:30 PM, cellist Tomeka Reid leading a trio with bassist Joshua Abrams and guitarist Matt Schneider at 5:30 PM, singer Dee Alexander debuting her Evolution Arkestra (a merging her mainstream band with her more exploratory Evolution Ensemble) at 7 PM, and drummer Dana Hall leading a quartet (with reedist Geof Bradfield, bassist Clark Sommers, and vibist Justin "Justefan" Thomas) through a program of Andrew Hill music at 9 PM. Of course, the close proximity of the various stages and the caliber of the talent makes wandering around Hyde Park at will just as worthwhile. The full lineup, show times, and venue locations are at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival website.

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