HILTON RUIZ & DAVE VALENTIN
Born in New York City to Puerto Rican parents, pianist Hilton Ruiz grew up in a neighborhood filled with Latin music. But as a child prodigy who'd played Carnegie Hall at age eight, he was soon looking beyond the end of his nose for inspiration, and by 1973, when he was barely into his 20s, he was working for visionary reeds master Rahsaan Roland Kirk. He got a pretty good grasp of the entire jazz tradition from Kirk's penchant for dusting off New Orleans stomps and flinging open the doors of bebop to the avant-garde, and when he struck out on his own in the 80s he packed a novel one-two punch: he could whip up irrepressible salsa, but just as easily blend into virtually any mainstream context. More than any other musician of that decade, he laid a foundation for current style-blending stars like Puerto Rican saxist David Sanchez (who spent last weekend at the Jazz Showcase) and Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez. Like Ruiz, flutist Dave Valentin was born in New York in 1952, when salsa was making its debut as one of the city's theme musics. A GRP Records mainstay during its pop-jazz heyday in the 80s, he made his mark packaging his own Puerto Rican heritage in a series of pleasant albums, most of which diffused the considerable heat he can generate (his 1998 GRP disc, Live at the Blue Note, was a notable exception). Both Ruiz and Valentin have had some success slapping clave rhythms onto jazz standards, but the hybrid melodies of their original tunes show off the vigor of their imagination to much better advantage. They've guested on each other's albums, and as like-minded contemporaries they play with a shared purpose that's as intense as tropical sunlight. For these shows they'll perform in a quartet. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Gologursky.