The Chicago Jazz Festival’s return to in-person programming came to a wonderful and brilliant end. Despite the year off, the festival didn’t missed a step and continued on it’s mission to bring the jazz genre to the forefront of the Chicago music scene.
Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons
I was a little sad to think that day four of the Chicago Jazz Festival was happening. Rain threatened to wash the day out, but clear weather prevailed and the show went on. I am one of those who will not let Summer go and you can keep your pumpkin everything until the Autumnal Equinox. I feel blessed to have experienced the two artists that closed out the festival. First up was Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons and it was a hot penultimate set. Kris Davis is a leader in experimental keyboard artistry. She was joined by NEA Jazz Master Terri Lyne Carrington on the drums, Trevor Dunn on the bass, and Val Jeanty on the turntable and electronics. A fog encased the tops of the downtown skyscrapers, Kris Davis Diatom Ribbons took the audience on a trip across the astral planes.
Others have written that Davis is difficult to categorize, and for me and many others, that is the point of jazz music. Davis embraces the experimental and the Avant-Garde deeply influenced by Sun Ra. Jeanty proves that the turntable is an art form and so much more than “scratching” and mixing. The electronics enhanced the feeling of flying the space helped along with a voice-over out of the Sun Ra tradition. The voice speaks of flying through colors and seeing things no longer in the frame which describes Diatom Ribbons perfectly. Each musician becomes one with their instrument. Terri Lyn Carrington beat a tattoo on the drums with polyrhythmic sustaining beats and Trevor Dunn played a hypnotic bass riff that led into what I am calling a jazz fugue. Davis and Jeanty delivered layers of notes and surprise flourishes reminiscent of Frank Zappa’s oeuvre working with George Duke. Davis plays between the Steinway and a Fender Rhodes as the other notes swirl around her. I want to hear more of her music with Diatom Ribbons. Check it out and it will send you down a trippy rabbit hole. Just let yourself ride.
Big Chief Donald Harrison
I was so geeked to see Donald Harrison play. This is a guy who played with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers- one of the iconic groups of hard bop. It was fast with notes bending and out-of-this-world improvisational riffs. Harrison is New Orleans royalty as he is the son of Donald Harrison Sr. who was the Big Chief of New Orleans Congo Square Afro New Orleans Cultural Group. It is a heady title to live up to and Donald Harrison Jr. has earned his Chief regalia. Harrison is a brilliant tenor sax player who is heavily influenced by John Coltrane. The band played Coltrane’s “Impressions” and other music that Harrison has titled Nouveau Swing. It is a brew of ragtime, soul, funk, and Caribbean music. Harrison says that music is “the same twelve notes, it’s just how you cook it, and the flavor is from the people who inspire us.”
Harrison holds a special affection for Chicago. He survived Hurricane Katrina and the first stage he played was the 2005 Chicago Jazz Festival in tribute to Charlie Parker. He caught a flight on the day he was listed to play as if the stars were aligned. Harrison is also a showman who revs up the crowd with imitations of James Brown’s singing and dance moves. He brought a sharp group of musicians to the festival stage. Chicago native Dan Kaufman on the piano, Nori Naraoka on bass, 23-year-old prodigy Brian Richburg on the drums, and internationally renowned guitarist Detroit Brooks. Harrison called these musicians as ones who did their homework and learned from the best. He knew that each of them would be playing on the headliner stage. A special surprise was Afro-Cuban percussionist Bill Summers who came out for the final two numbers. The group lit up the stage and had the audience on its feet. This was the perfect ending to the music festival season at Millennium Park but as emcee Maggie Brown reminded everyone, there is always great jazz in Chicago and events even when the Hawk (winter for the uninitiated) flies in. This is the way that I want to remember the summer of emergence after a two-year festival hiatus.
Check out the Jazz Institute of Chicago for all things jazz in Chicago!
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