Brad Williams 21st Century Review | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Brad Williams 21st Century Review

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In assembling this ambitious project--which began with Monday night workshops and has blossomed into a weekly bagatelle at the Bop Shop--pianist Brad Williams wanted something that reached beyond the pure-jazz audience. And he's got it: an easygoing, slightly haywire melange of styles ranging from gospel to torch songs and from Dixieland to cool jazz. His versatile ten-person ensemble boasts two reeds, including the ageless hipster Rich Fudoli; two brass, with Sean Flanigan's trombone antics especially impressive; and three vocalists, led by the impetuous self-assurance of contralto Aisha de Haas. (With each of his collaborators guaranteed a solo spot each set, Williams's vaunted abilities as a seasoned sideman come to the fore, and as usual that aspect of his music all by itself provides substantial enjoyment.) The whole package, which is more or less held together by Williams's slightly bemused commentary, spells "revue," as in variety-show entertainment; but the pianist has tried to bring a deeper meaning to the proceedings by labeling it a review--that is, a backward glance at the music of this American century from the threshold of the next. They do play jazz, but they spend almost as much time playing with jazz, crafting a revue that proves hipper than you might expect (although not quite as pointed as you might hope). In using jazz as a sort of structural device for this eclectic survey, Williams draws an entertaining and purposely limited map of American musical traditions while striving for a modern version of cafe society; even when it doesn't quite hang together, it's still a good enough idea to leave you grinning. Fridays, 8 PM, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

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