Jeff Chan Quartet, William Roper's Purple Gums | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Jeff Chan Quartet, William Roper's Purple Gums

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This year's Asian American Jazz Festival brings in several San Francisco-based players with a deep interest in the Chicago jazz tradition. The first of the event's two nights stars Jeff Chan, whose most recent album, In Chicago (Asian Improv), was recorded here in the summer of '02 with local bassist Tatsu Aoki (the festival's founder) and drummer Chad Taylor; it's an excellent disc that gains extra punch from the presence of larger-than-life trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, who died shortly before its release. Chan plays a throaty tenor and a vibrant, dark-toned soprano, and he often gives his written themes (and even his free-sailing improvisations) a stately undercurrent, reminiscent of Asian ceremonial music, heard best when Chan hammers a couple of notes in brief passages that shift the focus from melody to cadence. The band from the record will reconvene for the show, with veteran alto saxist Jimmy Ellis taking Muhammad's place. Earlier on the bill, Francis Wong--a saxist strongly indebted to the music and politics of Chicago's AACM--performs in the wonderfully inventive and completely unexpected trio Purple Gums, led by LA-area tubaist William Roper. The third member is trumpeter Bobby Bradford, who became famous for his work with Ornette Coleman in the 60s and still plays with his trademark mixture of technical precision, free-jazz fearlessness, and offbeat humor; urged on by Roper's hyperactive bass lines, Purple Gums comes off as a sort of pocket-size 21st-century New Orleans brass band. On its self-titled debut (also on Asian Improv; Wong helped start the label), spoken-word interludes fit right into the odd but well-balanced mix of chamber-music intimacy and urban grit. The evening's lineup also includes Jonathan Chen's rock-jazz sextet and Tibetan sacred music from the Gomong Monks. Friday, October 24, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.

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