When: Fri., July 29, 9 p.m. and Sat., July 30, 8 p.m. 2016
Over the last decade alto saxophonist Greg Ward has made his name as a remarkable improviser, blending exquisite technique, a bright and cutting tone, deep soulfulness, and profound lyrical instincts. He’s occasionally led some of his own projects—like the fusion band Fitted Shards or the hyperactive trio with bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Damion Reid he put together during a six-year stint in New York—but none of that work matched what he could do as a sideman. That changed with great fanfare last year when Ward put together the fantastic tentet that appears on the recent Touched My Beloved’s Thought (Greenleaf), a stunning nine-movement suite inspired by the 1963 Charles Mingus classic The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. The piece was commissioned for the city’s now-defunct Made in Chicago series and created as a collaboration with Chicago choreographer Onye Ozuzu—though the music can stand on its own (the Green Mill performances will take place without dancers). There are only fleeting quotations and references to the Mingus work—Ward dispatches with the flamenco flourishes—but the rich compositions and dense arrangements of Touched My Beloved’s Thought are clearly related, and retain a strong sense of the blues in the lush contrapuntal horn playing. Ward’s searing alto lines provide the dominant improvisational voice, but the band is packed with some of city’s finest players, all of them operating at peak level: saxophonists Tim Haldeman and Keefe Jackson, trombonists Christopher Davis and Norman Palm, trumpeter Russ Johnson, cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, pianist Dennis Luxion, bassist Jason Roebke (subbed for by the capable Matt Ulery), and drummer Marcus Evans.