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New-Trad Octet

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NEW-TRAD OCTET

Mardi Gras comes to Chicago early this year--New York-based alto saxist Jeff Newell usually books his New-Trad Octet into the Green Mill at the end of February, offering a blast of New Orleans-style revelry at around the same time the tourists head south to overrun Bourbon Street. A glassy-toned altoist and classy bandleader, Newell founded this group here in the mid-80s, inspired by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The New-Trad Octet, like the Dirty Dozen and its offshoots, leans on the Crescent City's early-20th-century brass-band heritage, but not on the repertoire of the period: you're much more likely to hear the music of Ellington, Parker, Mingus, or Monk than that of Jelly Roll Morton or King Oliver (although Newell does have a fondness for warping old hymns like "Amazing Grace" and "The Old Rugged Cross"). In other words, the octet uses the street-march rhythms of early jazz--and even some of its fabled polyphony--to recast songs that wouldn't be written for generations, a juxtaposition that accounts for the band's anachronistic charm. Newell takes this hybridization of old and not-so-old further than most, however; alongside the tuba, which in traditional New Orleans bands supplies all the bass lines, his lineup includes a modern rhythm section of piano, guitar, and string bass, none of which are found in trad groups--and tubaist Dan Anderson's lines prance and drive with a flexibility unknown in ancient New Orleans. Similarly, drummer Rick Vitek's rhythms reference the old while leaving plenty of room for later developments, from swing to bop to funk. Sharing the front line with two polished Chicago brass men, trumpeter Orbert Davis and bass trumpeter Ryan Shultz, Newell solos thoughtfully but doesn't hog the spotlight, preferring to let his little swinging machine do the talking. Friday, February 2, 9 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

NEIL TESSER

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