Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers


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I don't know what to call Kermit Ruffins, the thirtysomething trumpeter and singer who expertly invokes the classic Crescent City jazz of the 1920s--"neoclassic" already describes the wannabeboppers, who are trying their damnedest to bring back 50s jazz. Besides, Ruffins doesn't really play "neo" anything: though his music harks all the way back to the birth of jazz, it's never gone out of fashion in his native New Orleans. He respects its history but pursues it as a living idiom, and his zeal hasn't yielded an inch to self-conscious detachment or irony, even after almost two decades. (In the early 80s, while still in high school, Ruffins and a bunch of his friends formed the Re-Birth Brass Band, among the first in a wave of post-Dirty Dozen trad outfits; he recorded six albums with them before branching out on his own in '94.) Like Wynton Marsalis, another Crescent City citizen, Ruffins can reconstruct the blaring, molten tone and startling rhythmic displacements of Louis Armstrong's revolutionary early recordings; unlike Marsalis, he also captures Armstrong's occasional cracked notes and careering vibrato, as well as the genuine glee that these "flaws" never entirely conceal. He further loosens up the proceedings by time traveling to the jump-band ditties of the 40s to showcase his exuberant vocals. On trumpet, he uses a blunt attack and loves to pinch off high notes--on the Barbecue Swingers' new Swing This! (Basin Street), his horn glows against the dark, growling trombone of Corey Henry. Henry, pianist Emile Vinette, bassist Kevin Morris, and drummer Jerry Anderson (the whole band, minus only saxophonist Roderick Paulin) journey up the Mississippi with Ruffins for this rare Chicago gig. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers also play the Chicago Folk & Roots Festival on Saturday at 6:15 PM in Welles Park, 2333 W. Sunnyside; 773-525-7793. NEIL TESSER

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