Benny Green Trio | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Benny Green Trio


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On the newly released Kaleidoscope (Blue Note), the eighth album under Benny Green's name, the 34-year-old pianist does something he hasn't done since his first album: he moves beyond the piano trio format. In the process, he also escapes some of the stultifying stylistic boundaries that threatened his considerable talent. Ever since his salad days, as a sideman first for Betty Carter and then for Art Blakey and Freddie Hubbard, Green has exhibited a fluid and creative appreciation for the seminal piano styles of the 1950s--he can summon up Wynton Kelly and Tommy Flanagan at will--and his homage eventually came to include the soulful piano funk played by Bobby Timmons and Horace Silver in the early 60s. But in recent years it had begun to seem like Green had painted himself into a hard-bop corner: each new album had the same competent correctitude, with Green's marvelously lithe phrases and unselfconscious command of those styles, but little new to say. On Kaleidoscope, though, Green spends most of his time leading a quartet or quintet (featuring the exciting guitarist Russell Malone and one of two saxophonists); more important, he spent time writing for these bands, and some of the resultant music suggests a blossoming originality in both Green the writer and Green the pianist. Maybe he needed nothing more than a change of scenery to shake him up a bit, or maybe this is the first evidence of "the many changes occurring both personally and musically" that he mentions in the liner notes. Regardless, he's playing with a renewed purpose and a greater integration of his sources, and he deserves your attention more now than at any time in the last five years. Unfortunately, he's not bringing the quintet for this engagement; with any luck, though, the developments in his music will translate to the trio format. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, March 14 and 15, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, March 16, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Norman Jean Roy.

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