Free improvisation, like its near relation, jazz, isn't about musicians playing anything that pops into their heads; it's about solving practical problems. How can I make my part fit in with or counter someone else's? What's missing here that I can add? How can I help nudge us out of this listless episode? Should we try to give this piece some overall shape or just focus on the passing moment? Is there an opportunity here to make a clean ending--and if so, should we seize it? Free play is risky, but it's also the most timely music possible, made up at the last possible moment for a particular audience's enjoyment. For a couple of years now trombonist Jeb Bishop has been organizing monthly matinees at the Green Mill; the lineup partly depends on who's in town, but every time I've caught the Chicago Improvisers Group it's played with gratifying wit, energy, and invention. Like some previous gatherings, this month's edition will feature saxophonist Dave Rempis and drummer Tim Daisy, who'll get to interact with Bishop and each other more spontaneously than they do in the Vandermark 5 (a band whose solos, entrances, and exits are agreed upon in advance). Yet the form tends to take care of itself: everybody gets a chance to solo, and there's plenty of variety in the textures and dynamics. Other CIG vets on hand will include Jason Roebke on bass, Jim Baker on grand piano and analog synth, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and electric mandolin, and Todd Margasak on cornet, who complements his attractive, elliptical melodies with a warm, supple sound. This month's newcomers will be up-and-coming alto saxophonist Aram Shelton and Swiss new-music tubaist Mark Unternaehrer, who's spending a few months in town. The mix of old and new hands promises both coherence and unexpected pleasures, and the Green Mill is never lovelier than on a bright afternoon, when sunshine reflected off passing cars makes light dance around the room. Sunday, February 17, 2 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Jim Newberry.