Though Chicagoans have come to expect provocative, even bizarre overhauls of jazz instrumentation from AACM groups, this setup--Billy Bang plays the violin, Hamiet Bluiett the baritone sax, and Kahil El'Zabar percussion--will still probably raise a few eyebrows. I haven't heard the rarely convened group's only recording, last year's The Power (on the German label CMP), but in fact it's not the first experiment of its kind. Truly obsessive completists will note that the first great jazz violinist, Joe Venuti, made several recordings with Adrian Rollini on the truly weird bass saxophone in early 1927. Bang himself has fiddled alongside bari sax before, recording two studio albums and a live duet with Charles Tyler. And Kahil El'Zabar has made the odd configuration of two melody instruments and percussion familiar to local audiences with his long-lived Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, which first featured two saxes and now sports a tenor sax and trombone; Bang and Bluiett will simply stretch the range of timbres. Bang likes to use his rough, reedy tone to spike his solos with a kick as stiff as grain alcohol. He doesn't play pretty; when he holds a long note, as he does in the melody that opens his intoxicating new Big Bang Theory (Justin Time), it flutters and undulates in ways no conservatory student would allow. I can't say for sure whether this technique requires a classicist's discipline or its absence, but it doesn't really matter: Bang has integrated such unorthodoxies so deeply into his music that they all but define it. Bluiett, who anchors the World Saxophone Quartet (which also has a new Justin Time disc, Requiem for Julius), takes similar liberties with his sound, popping and blurting and splitting his burnt-velvet tone into multiphonics; he's capable of spectacular flexibility and nuance, which can make the big horn intimate as well as imposing. El'Zabar is probably the most explicit performer of the three, wont to erupt in vocal accompaniment to his own mbira playing, then practically levitate from the trap set as he punctuates a phrase. His presence all but guarantees that this set will be the musical equivalent of a bottleful of uppers. Wednesday, 8 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.