The stocky figure Rich Corpolongo cuts on a bandstand doesn't hint at his sleek and flighty reed work. Corpolongo's an equal opportunity virtuoso: on alto and especially soprano saxophone, he combines dead-on intonation and a rare malleability of timbre; on clarinet, he distinguishes his sound with a breathy subtone that adds a buzzy complication to the music; on flute, he can leap easily into a screech, building on the examples of Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk to construct a style that emphasizes strength over delicacy. A Chicago jazz-scene trouper and teacher for more than three decades, Corpolongo has impressed listeners not just with his endless technique but also with his capabilities as an improviser, which he's adapted to everything from the cooperative experimental trio Spontaneous Composition to Marshall Vente's little big band--where he played music inspired by the electric pastels of Gil Evans's fusion band. But it wasn't till a couple years ago that Corpolongo, then in his mid-50s, got around to making an album under his own name. Just Found Joy (Delmark) was a suitably rangy affair that attracted serious attention around the country; his recently released follow-up, Smile, continues in the same vein, beginning with a smooth groove ("Expressivo") that leads into one of several wild flights of fancy ("Experiment"), followed by a hard blues. Corpolongo throws everything he's got behind every tune: even on soft ballads or a slow tone poem his playing often bristles with exertion, giving each note its own heft and character. That tendency should come in handy at this gig, a birthday homage to tough-nut west-coast altoist Art Pepper, who soared to fame in the 50s (and fell to earth under the weight of his heroin habit shortly thereafter). Pepper's music was especially obdurate, slicing through almost any session like Excalibur. In the last third of his career (he died in 1982), Pepper pushed his music from coolish bebop toward the modal experimentation suggested by John Coltrane's music of the 60s; the enviable ease with which Corpolongo fords the jazz streams of the last half century lands him that much closer to Pepper's camp. Tuesday, 1 PM, Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-1426. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Marc PoKempner.