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Arts Critic Howard Reich Praises MIC's Paquito D'Rivera Concert

Paquito D'Rivera goes to jazz school in Evanston

Howard Reich, Arts Critic

 

Chicago Tribune

September 18, 2011

 

How do you introduce an entire jazz faculty to the public – and make a splash doing it? One surefire way: Engage a jazz star to perform with the teachers. Which is precisely what the Music Institute of Chicago did over the weekend at Nichols Concert Hall, in Evanston, where the much-admired reedist Paquito D'Rivera performed with the school's new staff.

 

Though the institute has been nurturing classical music in the Chicago area for decades, last year the organization took the plunge into jazz, hiring several of the city's best artists to teach the great American art form. On Saturday night, the Music Institute launched the second year of its jazz program with the D'Rivera concert, the evening auguring well for both the institute and the jazz students who pass through it.

 

 

Perhaps no moment summed up the purpose and possibilities of this venture more eloquently than when D'Rivera duetted with Chicago trumpeter Victor Garcia an ascending figure in Chicago jazz. Playing D'Rivera's bossa nova-tinged "To Brenda With Love," the two musicians eventually segued into the C Minor Prelude from Book 1 of J.S. Bach's "Well-Tempered Clavier." In this inspired improvisation, the saxophonist and trumpeter merged classical and jazz languages – or, to put it another way, found commonalities between them.

 

Suddenly, swing rhythm and perpetual-motion classical phrase-making didn't seem so far-removed from one another. As the intensity of the performance built and the tempo accelerated, D'Rivera and Garcia practically obliterated distinctions between two schools of musical thought. In effect, they argued that there's a great deal of jazz spirit in the music of Bach and considerable classical harmony at the roots of jazz. The performance drew the biggest ovations of the night, the audience clearly welcoming the cross-genre message that D'Rivera and Garcia were sending.

 

This was just one fine moment among many for Garcia, who became D'Rivera's foremost foil in several pieces. The trumpeter turned in some of the strongest work of his young career in Eddie Palmieri's "You Dig," sending high notes into the stratosphere and showing unmistakable depth of feeling throughout his solos.

D'Rivera paid homage to his great mentor, Dizzy Gillespie, with an original work, "I Remember Dizzy," the soloist crafting beautifully ornamented phrases on clarinet and transforming Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia" and "Salt Peanuts" on alto saxophone. In this suite and others, D'Rivera introduced the young pianist Alex Brown, who very nearly lived up to D'Rivera's generous introduction. Above all, Brown can create tremendous rhythmic tension between his hands and gathers a surging momentum in climactic passages, two traits that distinguished his playing.

 

Among the other Music Institute jazz-faculty members, two stood out: tenor saxophonist Pat Mallinger produced the hard-driving, melodically complex solos one expected from him, though he was poorly miked for the occasion; and pianist Jeremy Kahn reaffirmed his versatility in bebop, Afro-Cuban and contemporary idioms.

The percussion faculty drove this impromptu band relentlessly, and faculty head Audrey Morrison doubled as trombone soloist and gracious emcee.

 

The Music Institute should be proud of the team it has assembled. Long may it swing.

 

To view this article on Chicago Tribune's website, click here.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

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