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Mazen Kerbaj's only commercially available recording, A (La CD-Theque, 2003), is a session with fellow Lebanese improvisers Sharif Sehnaoui (guitar) and Raed Yassine (bass) that recognizably belongs to European free-music tradition. On the album Kerbaj plays mostly saxophone--quiet, sputtering, harmonically striated squeals and groans that mesh well with Yassine and Sehnaoui's coloristic rumbles and drones--but when I caught him in Berlin last January he was more interested in exploring the trumpet's potential as a malleable sound generator, sometimes using unpitched streams of air that hissed and fluttered like steam. When the spirit moves him Kerbaj will do things like attach a sax mouthpiece to his horn via a length of rubber tubing or hold his trumpet upright and block the bell with diverse objects to yield a variety of vibrations. The beautiful but as yet unreleased recordings he made with like-minded Viennese trumpeter Franz Hautzinger are full of extended silences that give the tiniest sound explosive impact. Kerbaj, who's also an accomplished cartoonist, helped found the small but vital improvised-music community in Beirut, where after decades of civil war and instability an annual festival is now attracting leading European and Japanese players. These performances are his first in Chicago. The Dave Rempis Quartet opens Thursday, and Kerbaj plays solo. On Friday Kerbaj plays with keyboardist Jim Baker and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm; on Saturday, with reedist Guillermo Gregorio and percussionist Michael Zerang. Thursday, July 22, 9:30 PM, 3030, 3030 W. Cortland; 773-862-3616 (donation requested). Friday and Saturday, July 23 and 24, 9 PM, Candlestick Maker, 4432 N. Kedzie; 773-463-0158 ($10 suggested donation for each of these all-ages shows).

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