Jackie McLean Quintet | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jackie McLean Quintet

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In the early 1960s alto saxist Jackie McLean put together a group that he felt would catch the spirit of change and the drive for freedom and independence that the political winds were then buffeting around the nation. You can gauge his success from the group's two Blue Note recordings (One Step Beyond and Destination Out, both on CD): the music bristles with a hard-edged optimism that remains refreshing three decades later, even as it summons up a world of A-line dresses and dashikis. And you can gauge the music's durability when the Chicago Jazz Festival re-creates the McLean Quintet on Friday night. McLean, then as now, played a forceful, rippling brand of jazz, rhythmically intrepid and intent on pressuring the musical structures that just barely contained it; in the front line of this pianoless quintet, he stood toe-to-toe with two remarkably well-chosen others. The trombonist Grachan Moncur III brought a bluff sound, soaring improvisations, and emotionally vivid compositions; vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson (then in his early 20s) used the opportunity to introduce his instrument to this new music, supporting the soloists with an open-ended, at times ethereal grace. This band, more than any other, revealed the evolutionary hybrid of hard bop and free jazz that McLean did so much to foster--a mixture that still camps at the heart of each musician's mature style. The three of them will reunite for the first time at this concert, along with the help of two more certified giants, bassist Reggie Workman and the effervescent drummer Billy Higgins, both of whom own a significant chunk of jazz history (and not only for their respective tenures with John Coltrane and Ornette Coleman). The McLean Quintet caps off the opening night of this year's jazz fest, programmed by a committee of the Jazz Institute of Chicago (of which this writer is a member). Friday, 9 PM, Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park, Columbus and Jackson; 744-3315.

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