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Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues

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CORKY SIEGEL'S CHAMBER BLUES

Even though he first played his blues harp in front of a symphony orchestra 30 years ago--and despite the fact that the Modern Jazz Quartet had made jazz history by mixing blues and classical techniques more than a decade before--Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues still qualifies as an odd duck. The sextet combines Siegel's harmonica, a traditional string quartet, and Frank Donaldson's tabla and percussion--picture Walter Horton, Mozart, and Ravi Shankar eating off the same plate. We're a long way from the Delta, baby. Siegel has always fished on the sunnier side of the creek, from his days as coleader of Siegel-Schwall to his user-friendly solo sets of the 80s, so though this fusion can seem awfully light, it doesn't strike me as pandering. For the most part he divorces blues technique from the emotional life that fostered the idiom, but he's hardly the first to do that--check out about half the British Invasion--and he's much more inventive than most. His trademark harmonica riff is a glissando from the fifth note of the scale to the tonic, either up or down, skipping the so-called blue note in the middle; this omission conveys a sly, whimsical, insinuating attitude--an attitude that for me almost always escalates into a bad case of the cutes. But Chamber Blues's follow-up to its 1994 debut, the just-released Complementary Colors (Gadfly Records), displays the salutary effects of four years of vigorous touring. And I'm not blind to the attraction this music holds for other listeners, or to the resourcefulness with which Siegel blends his two musical loves. In other hands the hybrid would be insufferable, but he and his players pull it off with confidence and enthusiasm. Friday, 8 PM, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln; 773-728-6000. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.

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