Ellery Eskelin With Andrea Parkins & Jim Black | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Ellery Eskelin With Andrea Parkins & Jim Black

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Both the title of Ellery Eskelin's latest album, Arcanum Moderne (Hatology), and the liner notes, in which the tenor saxophonist takes issue with the notion that "music is the universal language," set you up for an exercise in willful obscurity. Then there's the peculiar lineup of his trio, which includes drummer Jim Black and accordionist, pianist, and digital samplist Andrea Parkins. But the music turns out to be shockingly accessible, a happy marriage of familiar elements pulled from the mainstream as well as the avant-garde. Eskelin's pungent tone, breathy accents, and nimble phrasing are steeped in jazz lore, and not just the weird stuff: his recently reissued 1990 disc Forms includes a cover of Ellington's "Fleurette Africaine," and 1996's The Sun Died is a tribute to tenor saxman Gene Ammons, whose 45s were once a staple of Chicago jukeboxes. Drummer Black can do arrhythmic obstacle courses, walloping rock beats, and straightforward swing, and Parkins's contributions run the gamut from organ combo licks to Hendrixian feedback fantasias on amplified accordion to grinding electronic noise. As a bandleader, Eskelin is an expert at making eclecticism work: he doesn't hold genres at an ironic distance or jump-cut between them like John Zorn, nor does he subscribe to the traditional jazz gambit of hatching the improvisations on schedule from the composed material. Instead, each performance is a series of dissolving transitions held together by the band's highly evolved sense of form. The trio is celebrating its tenth year with a self-released DVD of concert footage, On the Road with Ellery Eskelin w/ Andrea Parkins & Jim Black. This show is their first in Chicago since 1998, and it's free. Monday, April 19, 7 PM, Claudia Cassidy Theater, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630.

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