Arthur Blythe | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Arthur Blythe

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Alto saxophonist Arthur Blythe doesn't fit easily into any musical camp, and his success stems in large part from this stylistic slipperiness. Blythe's earliest soundings came on some uninhibited "live" albums, and some of his latest as a temporary resident of the World Saxophone Quartet; both reveal the high-blown harmonic freedom that marks a great deal of "avant-garde" jazz. Yet even in these surroundings Blythe's solos maintain an earthy connection to the jazz tradition thanks to his love of roots rhythms and highly directed melodies. Thank, too, that blowsy, soulful sound: it stems in equal parts from his sweet neon tone and a fast, wide vibrato that makes him swing like mad even when holding a single note. It's a sound that sits precisely balanced between the expressionistic avatars of the avant-garde and the alto saxophone kings of jazz lore (Johnny Hodges, Benny Carter, Charlie Parker); as you might guess, its impact extends to musical formats other than the modernistic--say, to the piano-led rhythm section of Blythe's 1980s band In the Tradition. In these more commonplace surroundings Blythe's sound--and the larger-than-life artistic personality it paints--point toward the future, stretching the expected textures and material. Blythe hasn't played a club date in Chicago in as long as anyone can remember (a period during which he has played in concert only twice, as part of other groups), so this appearance carries more than the usual anticipation. His Chicago rhythm section will include the recently ubiquitous Jodie Christian on piano and Reggie Nicholson, a subtle powerhouse on drums, who's traveling from New York to make a too-rare gig in his hometown. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, Belmont Hotel, 3170 N. Sheridan; 642-9366 or 409-2606.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Anthiny Barbosa.

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