Rod McGaha | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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A product of the AACM who moved to Nashville in the early 90s, Chicago-born-and-bred trumpeter Rod McGaha has spent most of his career touring with gospel and R & B acts--he's backed Take 6 and CeCe Winans, Lou Rawls and the O'Jays. His jazz recordings are few and far between; until recently his most impressive work in that category was as a sideman for Ed Wilkerson on the 1994 album Light on the Path (Sound Aspects). He tailored his playing to the leader's brooding, episodic compositions, contributing a cool-burn lyricism and solos as shapely as they were melodic. The relatively new Preacherman (Compass), only his second album as a leader, is much more direct and, if acoustic jazz can be considered as such, more commercial. McGaha applies his remarkable technique to a mix of standards and toe-tapping originals, none longer than six minutes. As the title suggests, he's a religious man, and blues and gospel forms dominate, from the trumpet-organ duet "Is Your All on the Altar" to "This Little Light of Mine," which he sings instead of plays. His solo on the title track is a fit of nonverbal testifying, using half-valved smears that would make Lester Bowie proud, and on the Ray Charles-flavored "Splip, Bap, Boom" he's a garrulous jive cat with the plunger-mute mastery of Louis Armstrong or Bubber Miley. Though he's supported here by the same Nashville-based group on his album--pianist Lori Meecham, bassist Roger Spencer, and drummer Chris Brown--I hope McGaha will stretch out live like he does on the Wilkerson record. As potent as his solos are, there's no doubt that he's capable of more if given the space. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. PETER MARGASAK

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