The distinctiveness of TanaReid--a rather ordinary-looking quintet, with two saxophonists fronting a conventional rhythm section--has nothing to do with exotic spices and everything to do with basic ingredients. In fact, at first glance you might even take for granted the lean texture and unassuming flavors that make an hour's set so nourishing. Like any good jazz combo, TanaReid boasts a strong bond between leader and rhythm section--in fact, the leaders are the rhythm section. Bassist Rufus Reid, a familiar presence around Chicago in the early 70s while earning his degree at Northwestern, first encountered drummer Akira Tana in the mid-70s, when the two found themselves thrown together on various gigs and recording dates. By the time they decided to form their own band, some 15 years (and dozens of encounters) later, they'd eliminated any doubt about their compatibility or shared musical goals. Both Tana and Reid have established themselves as virtuosi for whom musicianship outranks ego; they can but won't engage in technique for technique's sake, which helps account for their value as sidemen to better-known leaders. And they've passed those virtues on to their own sidemen, providing thoughtful arrangements that encourage well-reasoned solos--solos that build excitement via the accumulated force of ideas instead of just notes. On their most recent recording, 1995's Looking Forward (Evidence), they brought breezy tenor saxist Mark Turner into the band, and his playing offers both contrast and support to that of Craig Bailey, who has contributed laconic flute and alto work since 1991. The biggest change in the band in recent years involves the piano chair, previously occupied by the hyperkinetic Rob Schneiderman; his big shoes are now worn by the much younger John Stetch, a finalist in the Thelonious Monk Institute's piano competition a few years back. Perhaps his most difficult challenge lies in complementing, without intruding upon, the connection between Reid's bass and Tana's drums, which frequently suggest a left and right hand, each in full awareness of what the other is up to. Friday and Saturday, 9 and 11 PM, and Sunday, 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 59 W. Grand; 312-670-2473. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by John Abbott.