Benny Green Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Benny Green Trio

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When pianist Benny Green performs one of his dead-on homages to Wynton Kelly and Tommy Flanagan--who largely defined the progressive jazz piano of the 1950s--it's enough to snap your head around. (After all, Kelly died in 1971; and while Flanagan remains among jazz's great keyboard men, at 67 he no longer displays the electrifying exactitude of his first fame.) Then, when Green lets loose a full-flourish descending run, he offers a nod to Bud Powell, subtly reminding us that Powell's bebop breakthroughs provided the foundation for Flanagan, Kelly, and all the rest. In the last few years Green has pushed ahead to the soulful piano funk played in the early 60s by Bobby Timmons, Les McCann, and Horace Silver, capturing the notes and even some of their spirit with uncanny accuracy. He plays marvelously, spinning bebop solos full of jostling, exuberant figures, and on the earthier tunes his locked-hands solos--playing synchronous chords with both hands--should wrest a smile from even the severely rhythm-impaired. But while his improvisations may delight, they remain quite clearly variations on a theme that's 40 years old. Green refuses to engage in the pompous self-justification that characterizes many of his neoclassic peers--who prattle on about true paths and how jazz lost its way in the avant-garde thicket--and this humility makes his artistic choices go down a lot easier. Still, I can't help hoping for the day he finishes his postdoc in jazz piano history and starts to unveil the man behind the star pupil. Friday through Sunday, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4846.

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

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