James Moody Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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James Moody Quartet


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You can make the pilgrimage to hear James Moody, the pioneering bebop saxophonist and flutist, for any of a variety of reasons, and in most every case your prayers will be answered. Moody's music fully justifies the oft-stated belief in bebop's adaptability: while bop remains his big bang, his universe has expanded considerably over the years. He has extended his chords to include harmonic developments subsequent to bop, and while he spiels the idiom's vocabulary, he updates its syntax. If sheer virtuosity's your bag, Moody comes through again. His alto tone, perched unwaveringly between hot and cool, sings complicated songs with confident clarity, and his flute technique remains among the oldest and most dynamic in jazz history. But it's his tenor playing that gives you the best glimpse of Charlie Parker's speed-of-thought connection with his horn--the realization of improvisation's full potential for expression. Moody's own improvised phrases have an angular, almost sinister tilt, but it never hampers the natural ebullience that's kept him at the top of his game for 50 years. If that weren't enough, he also has an uncanny sense of pop: his 1949 solo debut inspired the vocalese classic (and George Benson hit) "Moody's Mood for Love," and last year, on Young at Heart (Warner Brothers), he used the thematic conceit of "songs Sinatra sang" to craft more timelessly hip solos over smart arrangements. Yeah, he still vocalizes a couple times a set--in that improbable throaty rant with the Elmer Fudd rs--but everything else he does validates not only his career but also the founding principles of jazz itself. Youthful veterans Mike Kocour (piano) and Larry Gray (bass) head up Moody's Chicago rhythm section; the terrific Tony Pinciotti, a twentysomething drummer with fortysomething ears, rounds out the band. 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 by Robbie-Anna Hare.

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