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Rob Brown & Andrew Barker

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ROB BROWN & ANDREW BARKER

New York saxophonist Rob Brown doesn't have a shtick. He doesn't overblow till the cows come home and he doesn't play mix and match with klezmer or exotica or drum 'n' bass. But it's hard to think of another jazz player who's emerged in the last two decades who can cover so much territory so effortlessly: he's just as commanding playing swinging bebop over a walking bass line as he is furiously spitting motific variations in a totally free context. Although he occasionally plays flute (with rare unsentimental clarity), his main ax is the alto sax, and the influence of several of the instrument's greatest practitioners can be heard in his work. He channels Charlie Parker via longtime Cecil Taylor sideman Jimmy Lyons, abstracting and extending buoyant bebop rhythms, but he also adapts the lighter, more lyrical touch of Lee Konitz. There's even a streak of Ornette Coleman's sorrowful melodicism in his solos, and like Coleman's his compositions often call for the front line to lay long, elegantly measured phrases over roiling rhythms. Brown has been a regular member of groups led by William Parker and Joe Morris, but he also leads his own quartet, which has just released the excellent new Jumping off the Page (No More). From the ear-piercing upper-register squeal on "Twinkle" to the graceful melodies on "Elbow Figure," Brown sounds better than ever here. The lineup--with trumpeter Roy Campbell, bassist Chris Lightcap, and drummer Jackson Krall--nods nominally to Coleman's classic quartet, but though Brown kicks off the improvisations with some catchy themes, this group is more likely to abandon traditional song structure for most of a given piece, coming back to the tune's head only at the end. For these rare performances, his first as a leader in Chicago, Brown will be joined by drummer Andrew Barker. Barker is best known as the percussionist in the Gold Sparkle Band and once upon a time backed country-soul thrush Kelly Hogan, but since moving to New York he's really come into his own, playing in William Parker's Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra and with the promising alto saxophonist Chris Jonas. Brown and Barker will perform as a duo on Tuesday. Thursday's performance, which also features local bassist Kent Kessler, is on a program with a dance performance set to the music of Black Sabbath by New York choreographer Paige Martin. Tuesday, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600. Thursday, 8 PM, Congress Theater, 2135 N. Milwaukee; 773-252-4000. PETER MARGASAK

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