Bud Shank | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Alto saxist Bud Shank is a wolf in sheep's clothing. In 1950s Los Angeles, his name was synonymous with west-coast jazz--the cool (some called it bland) offshoot of bop with its roots in the 1949 recordings of Miles Davis's nonet. Shank certainly had the credentials to warrant this association: in 1950 he'd starred with Stan Kenton's orchestra, a breeding ground for California cool, and later in the decade he became a principal of the Lighthouse All-Stars, a pool of musicians who gathered at the eponymous California club and whose studio recordings, heavy on calm tones and smooth textures, epitomized the west-coast sound. In the 60s, he embraced bossa nova--itself an offshoot of cool jazz--before settling into the comfortable but relatively low-profile existence of an LA studio cat. So when Shank reemerged in the late 70s as a propulsive, explosive postbopper--his lines bright and extroverted, his once pristine tone still dry but now broken by guttural inflections--he took many listeners by surprise. Many, but not all. Folks who'd listened to the live albums the Lighthouse All-Stars cut at the club in the 50s already knew that the band had developed two distinct temperaments--reserved in the studio, loose and even heated onstage--and this second personality contained the seeds of the music Shank has been purveying these past 25 years. (He'll turn 76 later this month.) Even on a 1993 album with three other Lighthouse alumni, New Gold!--replete with contrapuntal arrangements reminiscent of the original All-Stars--he maintains the not-so-quiet fire of his second coming. In Chicago, Shank's quintet features nimble LA tenorist Pete Christlieb and marvelous, underappreciated drummer Joe LaBarbera, whose credits run from the ridiculous to the sublime (he played with Chuck Mangione's early bands, and also in Bill Evans's last great trio); two locals, pianist Larry Novak and bassist Larry Gray, round out the group. Friday and Saturday, May 3 and 4, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, May 5, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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

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