Alto saxophonist Jeff Newell is a strong player, but he doesn't swagger in the manner of Charlie Parker or Phil Woods, and his tone doesn't pin the listener's ears back like David Sanborn's or Arthur Blythe's. Newell's power comes from deep under the surface, anchoring his somewhat introspective solos, which ebb and flow in calm precision and crest in brief, glassy waves. His unruffled improvisations rarely disappoint, though neither do they always grab you by the collar. During this decade that restraint has helped him become a savvy and accomplished bandleader, in contexts that both enhance his own playing and promote a larger group aesthetic. Take two of the bands Newell leads this weekend: in his New-Trad Octet, he applies the modified march beats and the three-horn front line of early New Orleans street music to songs written a good deal later by people like Parker and Duke Ellington. The peppy, fluorescent rhythms--shaped by Rick Vitek's hyperactive drumming and shaded by Dan Anderson's surprisingly sprightly tuba lines--pick up the solos and carry them forward, but in truth, the solos take a backseat to the catchy concept of this popular band. In his quartet, Newell naturally places more emphasis on the solo, but still not at the expense of a group aesthetic. He borrows two members of the larger band, guitarist John McLean (who plays with a bleached-bone intensity) and Anderson (whose tuba takes the place of the bass). This odd instrumentation casts Newell's dry alto in a severe but flattering light. The New-Trad Octet plays Friday at 9 PM at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. The Jeff Newell Quartet plays Saturday at the annual Marshall Vente Jazz Fest, around 8 PM at Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. Other highlights of the festival include Friday night's appearance by Vente's own Brazilian-inspired Tropicale (with Sint Maarten steel-pan player Neville York), a trio led by repatriated Chicago bassist Eldee Young on Sunday afternoon, and the "international jam sessions" Saturday and Sunday, featuring York, German drummer Michael Kersting, and world-music whiz Howard Levy on harmonica, among others. Newell also leads a trio with New-Trad pianist Steve Million and David Marr on bass, Sunday at 8:30 PM at Pops for Champagne, 2934 N. Sheffield; 773-472-1000. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.