Guitarist John Scofield once described to me the difference between Idris Muhammad and the other jazz drummers he's worked with: "Idris is dirtier," he said--and he meant it as a compliment. Scofield's playing gained extra depth and range from Muhammad's loose, blowsy approach to both the beat and the sound of the drums, as well as from his New Orleans roots and experience in soul music. Muhammad has as many credentials from outside jazz as from within it: that's him on Fats Domino's deathless rendition of "Blueberry Hill," for instance, and in the 60s he toured with Sam Cooke and Jerry Butler before finding his way into jazz, first with Lou Donaldson and then as Prestige's house drummer in the 70s. The New Orleans flavor runs as deep in Muhammad's playing as it did in the music of fellow Crescent City native Ed Blackwell. He lets the timbres of his drum kit bleed into each other the way red beans color rice, and even his most progressive rhythms seem to echo the street parades of his youth: his free playing doesn't sound chaotic, but instead wears a veneer of sinuous funk. These qualities have made Muhammad's mid-90s work with Pharoah Sanders as compelling as his contributions to discs by Scofield and Stanley Turrentine, and have also served him well on recent dates with Roy Hargrove's Cuban band and reggae saxophonist Dean Fraser. If any place on this earth appreciates dirty drumming as much as New Orleans, it's Chicago--and the trio Muhammad leads here should offer a particularly sympathetic setting for his skills. He'll play with south-siders Chris Foreman on Hammond B-3 organ and martian funkster George Freeman on guitar, a latitude-spanning lineup that in its own way suggests jazz's journey from New Orleans to Chicago some 80 years ago. Saturday, 11 PM, Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln; 773-549-5549.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ali Rohman.