Chicago Jazz Orchestra With Stefon Harris | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Chicago Jazz Orchestra With Stefon Harris

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The pioneer vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, who grew up and learned music in Chicago, died last Labor Day weekend; the first of undoubtedly many tributes to him comes this weekend, when the Chicago Jazz Orchestra opens its four-concert season. The program will offer a retrospective of Hamp's career, from the time he joined Benny Goodman's mid-30s trio--the band that broke the color barrier in publicly performed jazz--through his leadership of a big band that in its prime ranked among the most explosive in jazz history; and CJO director Jeff Lindberg has invited the right guest artists for the job. The Chuck Hedges Swingtet--a Chicago group patterned after the Goodman quartet, with the leader's clarinet arabesques dueling Duane Thamm's vibes--will play several of the Goodman quartet's classic tunes, and more important, acclaimed mallet whiz Stefon Harris will join the orchestra to re-create the big band charts Hampton presided over from the 1950s until his death. Still under 30, Harris has released three albums under his own name and appeared on a slew of others, all of which have marked him as the successor to Gary Burton and Bobby Hutcherson as the finest vibraphonist in jazz. At times, he sounds like a supercharged Milt Jackson, and he has clearly absorbed the specific harmonic language that made Hutcherson a valued participant in the progressive scene of the 1960s. But Harris has created a fresh sound of his own, thanks to his extensive simultaneous use of vibes and marimba, and also his empathic grasp of the instrument's dual nature: he makes dramatic use of its percussive quality, yet feels free to ignore it entirely when the music demands legato lyricism. And his work as a composer has grown in huge leaps: his next album, The Grand Unification Theory (Blue Note, due in February), is an album-length suite for 12 instruments that will almost certainly make it onto next year's Top Ten lists. Sunday, November 24, 3 PM, Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State; 312-409-3947.

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

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