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Neville York

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The steel pan doesn't turn up often in jazz, for several good reasons. Its shimmery, floating timbre--you might even call it eerie--mixes uncomfortably with the focused tones of horns and piano. And technique presents even bigger problems: Since a pan lacks the sustain of a piano or vibraphone, the player has to execute a single-note trill (like a gentle drum roll) just to keep any one pitch sounding for more than a fraction of a second--which makes it more difficult to achieve the elaborate melodicism that most postbop jazz demands. In addition, the small blunt sticks used to play the pan (as opposed to the tapered, balanced mallets for such distant cousins as marimba and vibes) must be handled with a restraint that's often at odds with full-blown jamming. Neville York, a native of Saint Martin and one of only a handful of pan players able to improvise expertly--fellow Caribbean islander Othello Molineaux and New Yorker Andy Narell pretty much complete this rarefied fraternity--has released just two albums, each an eclectic mix of jazz, pop, and island rhythms. But working with Chicago pianist Marshall Vente, he engages the jazz aesthetic much more thoroughly. Though York is no stranger to the States--he spent seven years in De Kalb, earning two degrees at Northern Illinois University--he didn't meet Vente until after he'd returned to Saint Martin. In the eight years since, the two have forged a solid bond; Vente has made several trips back specifically to work with York, and has brought him to Chicago more than once already. York appears with Vente's Brazilian- and Cuban-flavored band, Tropicale, as part of an "all-tropical" Friday night at the ninth annual Marshall Vente Jazz Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday; the evening also features Brazilian band A Cor do Brasil and wraps up with a Latin-Brazilian jazz jam, patterned after a Cuban descarga. On Saturday and Sunday the festival offers sets starring puissant tenor saxophonist Billy Harper, the delightful Redd Holt Unlimited, veteran pianist Bob Acri, and Vente's most famous ensemble, Project 9. Friday, January 18, 8:30 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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