19 September 2011

Chicago locals

Chicago was an unexpected change of plans, but the jazz community is small and fairly easy to find so I caught two local bans: the Harold Washington College Faculty band and Mike Smith Quartet. Both were playing at Andy’s, one of a few nightly jazz clubs in Chicago, and obviously one that’s well known. As is the way in these parts, there are photos and posters on the wall of famous names who’ve played there. And they are the most famous.

The Harold Washington College Faculty Band played standards with the intelligent and developed skills that are evident in such trained players. The tunes were the old favourites: Stella, What is this thing called love, Anthropology, In your own sweet way, Triste and the like. All played with considerable subtlety and inventiveness. I particularly enjoyed Wayne’s Shorter’s Fee Fi Fo Fum given it’s such a different tune from the others. I also particularly enjoyed Matt Shevitz’s tenor for his smooth and purposeful playing including when he dropped into very lengthy passages of 16th notes. Scott Hesse dropped rich implications with his chordal accompaniment and soloed clean and fast although I didn’t feel with the melodic clarity of Matt. But guitar is like that. Bassist Cory Biggerstaff and drummer Todd Howell were steady and strong; Cory was nicely tuneful and unforced in soloing, and I thought Todd was unusually flowing in style. And I noticed lots of ending vamps. The Harold Washington Collect Faculty Band comprised Matt Shevitz (tenor), Scott Hesse (guitar), Cory Biggerstaff (bass) and Todd Howell (drums).

Mike Smith played the later sets and this was a very different conception. He was still playing standards, although a more a adventurous selection with a bop cum hard-bop theme. This was hotter, bluesier, dirtier, more overtly energetic if less inventive and an enticing presentation with good audience communication. These are a regular working band featuring a fluent alto with a jazz-cool presence out front of a steady professional rhythm section. Not so much challenging as bluesily correct. For blues, write hard-bop of Lee Morgan and Tadd Dameron as well as the standards and rhythm changes. Mike Smith (alto) led a quartet with Jordan Baskin (piano), Jake Vinsell (bass) and Brian Ritter (drums).

I shouldn’t forget street musician Ron Shelton who I met on the way to Andy’s that night. He’s been playing on the streets for seven years with his hardy Selmer Mk VII. Nice bloke, too. Nice to meet you, Ron.

No comments: