Jaki Byard & Michael Marcus | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jaki Byard & Michael Marcus


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Despite the 30-year difference in their ages, reedman Michael Marcus and 75-year-old pianist Jaki Byard belong together: both qualify as either free-thinking traditionalists or, if you prefer, history-minded modernists. Marcus has looked for inspiration to two of the most iconoclastic saxists in the annals of jazz. He's resurrected the manzello and the stritch, the mutant saxophones Roland Kirk discovered and adapted in the 50s. And he uses them to capture the startlingly human-sounding flights, cries, and shrieks that distinguished the short career of Eric Dolphy, Marcus's biggest and most obvious influence (he undertook his first serious jazz studies with Sonny Simmons, a sometime Dolphy sideman). Marcus has a strong melodic sensibility of his own, and he's no altar boy: even when he's paying tribute to these demigods, he's looking around with an eye to a little mischief, which you can hear in his affectionate musical jibes. Neverthelesss, these echoes will resonate pretty strongly when Marcus hooks up with Byard, who made his first important records with Dolphy in the early 60s. (Marcus may know his history, but in a sense, Byard is his history.) Byard has a bottomless bag of tricks; he doesn't fit neatly into any one period or category. He came of age during the era when swing gave way to bop and effortlessly produces artifacts of both: delicious stride piano, full of lush symmetry and verdant chords, as well as the granite filigrees of the 40s and 50s. But his recordings with Dolphy and later Charles Mingus pushed him into even more progressive voicings and forms. Byard's portmanteau personality lets him dart and weave among styles while wielding each with authority--making him the ideal partner for Marcus's well-informed investigations of the past and present. (This concert should serve as a preview of Marcus and Byard's first recording together, due out next month on the Canadian Justin Time label.) Sunday, 6 PM, Unity Temple, 875 Lake, Oak Park; 708-383-8873. NEIL TESSER

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos.

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