Sonny Fortune | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Sonny Fortune

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With a billowing tone on alto and tenor, a sinuous sound on soprano, and a juggernaut quality to his improvisations on all horns, saxophonist Sonny Fortune is a vital reminder of the power and promise that lit jazz from within during the 1960s. Fortune first grabbed the attention of jazz fans in the early 70s as a member of the McCoy Tyner Quartet; that particular edition of the band recorded a breakthrough album, Sahara, which remains one of the pianist's finest. Five years later he joined the best version of Miles Davis's mid-70s electric circus, the combo that made Agharta and Pangaea. Fortune's contributions lifted all these recordings to landmark status: on Sahara he matched Tyner's intensity; with Davis he provided a studious foil for the trumpeter's plugged-in impressionism. It's hardly surprising that he should have served these two leaders so well--Davis and Tyner both had intense musical relationships with John Coltrane, whose influence ripples through Fortune's music. Fortune was born in Philadelphia, where Coltrane grew up, and he has spoken about the galvanic effect of hearing My Favorite Things as a teenager. Fortune doesn't ape Trane, but he has inherited his spiritual strength and purity of purpose--and while they most clearly inform Fortune's tenor and soprano playing, I especially like the lithe virility they lend his alto work. Fortune finally made the connection explicit on the 2000 album In the Spirit of John Coltrane (Shanachie), which he'll draw from for these sets. He'll play with the ideal Chicago rhythm section for his music: the explosive Dana Hall on drums, bassist Larry Gray, and pianist Willie Pickens. Friday and Saturday, February 21 and 22, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, February 23, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473.

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