Rod McGaha | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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ROD McGAHA

I first encountered trumpeter Rod McGaha in Edward Wilkerson Jr.'s gargantuan Shadow Vignettes orchestra in the mid-80s--and I noticed him before he'd played a note. Tall and wiry, he towered above the brass section; from the back of the hall, where the acoustics muddled the group's different voices, it was probably easier to see him than to hear what he was playing. But from where I sat, McGaha's trumpet work stood as tall as he did--bright and clear, steady in the top register, pointed on solos. In fact, after Clark Terry heard Shadow Vignettes a few years later, he plucked McGaha for his touring big band. In his own projects, though, McGaha hasn't focused strictly on jazz. Coming of age in Chicago, he'd listened to plenty of blues and gospel, as well as their offspring, the black pop and soul epitomized by the Ohio Players and Earth, Wind & Fire--and since moving to Nashville a decade ago, he's busied himself infusing those idioms with jazz (or is that vice versa?), along the way releasing a couple of discs, 1997's The Servant (Magnatone) and the far more focused 1999 album Preacherman (Compass). I appreciate McGaha's hybrid music, but I've missed the smoldering solo work he can turn in when playing unalloyed jazz, and apparently I haven't been alone: Max Roach hired him for several small straight-ahead groups in the mid-90s. McGaha only rarely returns to his hometown, so it's hard to guess from one visit to the next what he'll play; this time he brings a conventional rhythm trio, which suggests that his sets will consist of in-the-pocket jazz laced with a bit of pop and R & B. Friday, July 27, 9 PM, and Saturday, July 28, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

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