Jon Jang has become the Johnny Appleseed of Asian-American jazz. Through his finely etched compositions and translucent recordings, and especially his Pan Asian Arkestra--with its perfect balance of big-band jazz, Eastern themes and timbres, and avant-garde expressionism--the Chinese-American pianist has done more than any other musician to help this music blossom into a distinct (and distinctive) idiom. On his most recent release, last year's Island: The Immigrant Suite No. 1 (Soul Note), recorded with his octet, he concentrates on his own heritage; however, in the Arkestra he invokes the musics of Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and India--not to homogenize them, but to underline their similarities and make tangible the common cause of Asian-American jazz musicians. Following the example of Duke Ellington, Jang creates orchestral pieces that usually feature his keyboard work, but aren't really extensions of it: so much depends on the wailing of flutes and reeds, on the spare, sudden clap and sting of unfamiliar percussion instruments, that his compositions could never be rendered on piano alone. This weekend Jang plays in a trio with Douglas Ewart on reeds and Kahil El'Zabar on drums; for a taste of what to expect, I'd suggest saxist Francis Wong's 1993 album Great Wall. Jang's work in Wong's quartet shows him to be an inventive colorist--with textures influenced by Andrew Hill, McCoy Tyner, and occasionally Cecil Taylor--and a relaxed technician, at ease between Western and Chinese-inspired rhythms. Jang cofounded the Bay Area's Asian Improv Arts organization and has performed with several of the artists playing at this weekend's Asian American Jazz Festival, but his appearance is not part of that event. Friday, 9 and 11 PM, and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM and 1 AM, Rituals, 537 S. Dearborn; 312-922-3834. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Jason Jen.