Diva | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Back in the day, all-girl orchestras might have had a world of technique and training, but they still traded primarily on their novelty value. (Think of the band portrayed in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot.) When the women's big band Diva first appeared in 1993, it did so with a whiff of that same gimmickry--the honorific "No-Man's Band" certainly didn't help--but it couldn't overshadow the solid work of the musicians. Led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, the band's first edition included several women who have since established themselves as solo artists, among them trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and baritone saxist Claire Daly. Their departures raised an important question about the group: was Diva's initial success a fluke, inspired by the presence of several particularly strong female horn players, or could the band depend on a steady stream of jazzwomen to maintain its standards--and its existence? Based on Live in Concert, recorded last year in Pittsburgh and due in a few weeks, there's no reason to worry: with Maricle still in charge and swinging with all imaginable power, Diva now features a crop of unknown soloists who all but eclipse the founders. Anat Cohen and Scheila Gonzalez provide a one-two tenor-sax punch that should be the envy of most jazz orchestras; baritonist Lisa Parrott has a granite tone and a delightfully skewed sensibility (on the disc's dynamo version of Ellington's "Rockin' in Rhythm," she builds her solo on the melody of Ornette Coleman's "Lonely Woman"); and Liesl Whitaker's lead trumpet slices through the arrangements. They've even dropped the "No-Man's Band" bit--either a reflection of increased self-confidence or an acknowledgment that most of their arrangements were written by men. Despite notable exceptions like Maria Schneider and Toshiko Akiyoshi, the world of big band composer-arrangers remains largely a boys' club. Expect that to change soon, too. Monday, January 20, 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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