Ballin' the Jack | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ballin' the Jack

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Reedist Matt Darriau is best known for his work in the Klezmatics and for jazzing up traditional Balkan music with his Paradox Trio; he formed Ballin' the Jack as a repertory band in 1998 to explore his growing love for early swing music. Darriau was joined by a terrific crew of New York jazz-oriented genre-hoppers on the group's debut, Jungle (Knitting Factory), which focused on the compositions of Duke Ellington, expertly simulating the band leader's voicings and meticulously articulating his melodies, with concise solos that were true to the architectural integrity of the ensemble performances on the original recordings. Despite such attention to detail, Ballin' the Jack was anything but a stodgy, tuxedo-sporting rep band: the septet made up for its compact size and lack of piano with intricate arrangements--most by Darriau, some by trumpeter Frank London and other members. The band, sounding more confident, altered its mission on its superb second album, The Big Head (also on Knitting Factory), introducing originals and broadening the repertoire with tunes by Coleman Hawkins, Gene Ammons, and even Leadbelly (via Clifford Jordan). They also opened up the arrangements without diminishing those singular silken swing textures and growling brass ad-libs. Both on the loose interpretations of classic material--what they call "swing moments" in the liner notes--and on their own compositions, contemporary flourishes are more prevalent, from the columns of heavy breathing that open Darriau's nifty swing pastiche "Tapped Out" to the organ cacophony guest Anthony Coleman adds to a brief treatment of Benny Goodman's "Seven Come Eleven." The players refuse to ignore the six decades of innovation that followed the creation of these tunes, but they don't play silly pomo games either. Curtis Hasselbring came aboard on the second album; the group is rounded out by Django-inspired guitarist Ben Sher, bassist Joe Fitzgerald, and drummer George Schuller, son of repertory guru Gunther. For the band's Chicago debut Peck Allmond replaces London and Steve Swell replaces Hasselbring. Monday, October 7, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.

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

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