Charles McPherson | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Charles McPherson

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Alto saxist Charles McPherson is a safe choice to kick off the Jazz Showcase's annual monthlong celebration of Charlie Parker, but nonetheless an exciting one. At 65 McPherson is still a perfect stand-in for Parker--a role he played on the sound track to Clint Eastwood's film Bird. With his fat, almost fulsome tone and spectacular facility with the tropes and phraseology of bebop, he can command Bird's style and sound as only a handful of others--Sonny Stitt, Phil Woods--ever have. But McPherson's approach to jazz doesn't begin and end with Parker. After moving from Detroit to New York shortly before his 20th birthday, he spent a dozen years in the frequent employ of Charles Mingus, who was then pushing his hardest against the structures of hard bop. The experience left McPherson with a taste for long-form improvisation and even an occasional yen for the smeary, vocalistic soloing of Mingus's better-known 1960s alto man, Eric Dolphy. After all but dropping off the map in the 80s, McPherson made three excellent recordings for the Arabesque label in the 90s and guested on the 2002 Mingus Big Band disc Blues & Politics (Dreyfus), reestablishing his credentials as a passionate player with a frequently stupefying technique and a grounding in bebop that gives his wilder flights an enviable strength and ballast. His playing has continued to evolve both technically and emotionally, making him a model for musicians steeped in, but not trapped by, the past. McPherson is backed here by pianist Ron Perrillo's trio. $20. Friday and Saturday, August 6 and 7, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, August 8, 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/Michael Jackson.

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