Burton Greene | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Burton Greene


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In the late 50s and 60s, Cecil Taylor stood like Chopzilla in the path of young new-music pianists: you could go around him, or maybe sneak between his footfalls, but no way could you ignore him. What Burton Greene chose to do was simply accept and work within Taylor's sphere of influence. Greene began studying classical piano at Chicago's Fine Arts Academy in 1944, at the age of 7, and turned to jazz in his late teens; by 1963 he had moved to New York, where he and bassist Alan Silva founded the Free Form Improvisation Ensemble. The group lived up to the name, and at a time when few others did. John Coltrane was years from the cosmic implications of Expression, and the musical freedom fighters of Germany and Britain had yet to make their mark. But Greene and Silva presided over performances of completely improvised music, picking up the gauntlet tossed by Lennie Tristano's sextet in a handful of prescient recordings almost 15 years earlier. From the beginning, Greene has offered a somewhat calmer and often quieter version of Taylor's athletic virtuosity; he speaks the same tongue but his poetry has fewer layers, his lines are shorter, and his clustered dissonances take less precipitous leaps. He has worked with, most notably, Steve Lacy and Marion Brown, but has recorded sparsely, and right now you can find only a couple of his discs. In the 80s he reoriented himself toward Eastern music, and his most recent project is Klezmokum, whose Jew-azzic Park (Bvhaast) explores (with a fair amount of humor) Greene's eastern European Jewish roots. Greene's performance with trombone legend Roswell Rudd about eight months ago at Unity Temple was his first in Chicago in nearly 30 years; a second one coming so soon after is pretty remarkable in and of itself. But there's more good news: in time for Greene's appearance, Rituals will finally unveil a real piano to replace the electric keyboard, hidden inside faux spinet cabinetry, that until now has made the pianoless trio the format of choice at the venue. Greene leads a quartet with Harrison Bankhead on bass, Kahil El'Zabar on drums, and Hanah Jon Taylor, a former Chicagoan coming down from Wisconsin, on reeds. Taylor was first heard as a flutist, then took up the soprano sax, and now has added tenor, which he plays with an earthy abandon on his new album Walk-in Angels (Fish Eye Records). Friday, 9 and 11 PM, and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM and 1 AM, Rituals, 537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834. NEIL TESSER

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

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