Kenny Drew Jr. Quartet | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kenny Drew Jr. Quartet


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An inheritance can be a burden as well as a gift, as Kenny Drew Jr. well knows. He received his name and his talent from his father, who played piano with Lester Young and Sonny Rollins in the 50s and composed several hundred jazz songs before his death in '93, and anyone who'd heard the old man's carefully carved solos would have high expectations for his son. But Kenny Jr., a strong and often galvanizing player, sounds almost nothing like Kenny Sr., who left the family early and didn't reestablish contact until nearly a decade later. By then the boy was a serious student of classical piano: he didn't turn his attention to jazz until his late teens. Many jazz pianists have taken the same path, but Drew--who in addition to playing with Stanley Turrentine and the Mingus Big Band has given recitals of the 19th- and early 20th-century piano literature--has retained a great deal of that background. Liszt and Chopin rub elbows with Bud Powell and Bill Evans in his music; you can hear it in the perfectly executed arpeggios, in the precision balance of certain chords and voicings, in the sweeping romanticism of his ballads, and even in his fondness for pieces by Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (whose "new tango" likewise tangled up the classical and the popular). But son does take after father in one respect: he has a deep regard for the unselfish subtleties that make piano accompaniment such an overlooked gift. For this gig, Drew leads a band that features two Chicagoans--bassist Larry Gray, whose mile-long jazz resume includes extensive classical studies, and guitarist Henry Johnson, whose blues and jazz-pop credentials should add a little extra grit--and one sometime Chicagoan, drummer Ed Thigpen. Thigpen's stick-and-brush work with the Oscar Peterson Trio in the 50s and 60s assured his place in jazz history, but he's never rested on his laurels: he's continued to absorb rhythmic resources from around the world into a style that's at once busy and tasteful, chatty and reflective. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 and 10 PM, next Friday and Saturday, February 19 and 20, 9 and 11 PM, and next Sunday, February 21, 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 Jules Allen.

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