B Sharp Jazz Quartet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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B Sharp Jazz Quartet




Inspired by their elders, schooled in the tradition, shunning electronics--based on that description, the B Sharp Jazz Quartet out of Los Angeles could pass for any of the neoclassic jazz units led by Wynton's Kids. The fact that they sound strikingly more modern--exhibiting a much greater command of the last quarter century's musical development--suggests more than one way of fitting into the jazz continuum: it depends on which elders and what tradition you have in mind. On "The Spirit of J.C." (from their second CD, Mirage, on the MAMA label), drummer Herb Graham and saxophonist Randall Willis present a lighter-than-air homage to John Coltrane, on which they echo the urgent shuffle beat associated with Coltrane's pianist, McCoy Tyner. When they tackle Joe Henderson's oft-recorded "Inner Urge," they dress it up with Rodney Lee's swirling keyboard voicings and a hip-hop beat. This strategem not only propels the tune into a contemporary framework but also illuminates the motif that drives its melody. They breathe their own energy into a straightforward version of Freddie Hubbard's proto-fusion romp, "The Intrepid Fox," paying respect to the 25-year-old original but using the solos to boost the song forward to now. And on ballads and blues they evoke a clean, dry emotionalism that recalls the history of California cool--from the stripped-down hip of Central Avenue, home of LA's black jazz scene in the 40s, to the sun-faded sentiment of movie jazz. B Sharp don't blow down the roof, they don't ride in on a critical groundswell, and they won't make you forget other similarly oriented bands in Chicago or elsewhere. They do present solid blowing from a focused and somewhat inventive LA quartet, thus offering a glimpse of the current state of African-American jazz in that city. Such a glimpse helps to compare, contextualize, and even validate musical trends in both LA and Chicago. To me that alone would justify the price of admission. Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 878-5552. NEIL TESSER

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