Malachi Thompson's Africa Brass | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Malachi Thompson's Africa Brass

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Chicago trumpeter Malachi Thompson played for a while with Lester Bowie's Brass Fantasy, the acclaimed and popular brass-and-percussion unit; but even before the Bowie band took flight, Thompson had fooled around with something he called Brass Proud. The latest incarnation of his fascination with this format is Africa Brass, replete with three trombones, four trumpets, and rhythm section (illuminated by the steady beacon of Harrison Bankhead's bass, and minus piano). The band's name connotes Thompson's regard for John Coltrane, who recorded an important album under that title in 1961; that album had relatively little to do with African music per se, and Thompson's band follows suit (although last week's late set featured a 40-minute extravaganza based on "Lift Every Voice and Sing"). Thompson has used a semiregular lineup for these weekly sessions, but standout solo work--particularly from trumpeters Robert Griffith and the unheralded Elmer Brown, an exacting whirligig of a player--is the order of the day. Much of their repertoire remains in the workshop stage, in need of polishing and editing but nonetheless worth hearing; and in the acoustically lively HotHouse, the hardwood resonance puts an extra burnish on the rich chorales. Thompson's still-evolving concept packs an unequivocal power: the music maybe saxless, but it's certainly not neuter. Thursday, HotHouse, 1569 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Ted Gray.

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