Jim McNeely | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader
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With Jim McNeely, you have to listen a little harder than usual to catch the breadth of his playing--but once you do, he continues to impress you with his muscular technique and cinemascope conception. In fact, the more you hear him, the better he sounds. His solos seem to sprawl from one end of the keyboard to the other, but his sense of form is strong enough to prevent such flights from sounding gimmicky. And with McNeely, you get more than the spontaneous compositions known as improvisation; his notated compositions (known as tunes) have a lithe edge that makes him one of the better writers around. (If there's any doubt about the punch and power of his writing, you have but to hear his influence on the Phil Woods Quintet, which he joined last year: at their recent Ravinia show, the entire band seemed rejuvenated on Big Mac's contributions to the book.) McNeely's annual holiday visit to his hometown starts with this week's gig on Sheffield, and it won't be short on pyrotechnics: McNeely's college chums Kelly Siff (bass) and Joel Spencer (drums) bring to their instruments the same combination of brain and brawn as their leader exhibits on piano. The fireworks continue next Friday, when McNeely moves in behind the driving alto saxophonist Jim Snidero at the Bop Shop. Tuesday and Wednesday, Pops for Champagne, 2934 N. Sheffield; 472-1000. Next Friday, July 5, Bop Shop, 1807 W. Division; 235-3232.

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