In Chicago jazz, a crop of new albums marks September harvest by Neil Tesser

September 13th, 2010
Well, I’m back. Having finally recovered (more or less) from packing about 45 hours of music into four days at the Chicago Jazz Festival last weekend, I’m ready to re-engage the music scene. And not a moment too soon, it turns out, as the next 10 weeks promise to keep anyone with ears pretty busy.

In particular, September is chock-full of new albums from Chicago artists, most of which will be celebrated in CD-release shows over the next few weeks. (That’s how you can tell it’s almost fall: the discs are dropping like autumn leaves.)

Monday (tonight) at the Jazz Showcase, the seductive Chicago vocalist Alison Ruble unveils the music on her atmospheric second album Ashland, which will officially arrive Sept. 21 on Origin Records. Working with the exhilarating guitarist John McLean, who wrote the arrangements, Ruble has crafted a cohesive collection aimed at unifying the classic jazz repertoire (a.k.a. the Great American Songbook) with tunes that might qualify as “new standards.” On Ashland, those candidates include tunes by Bob Dylan, Bonnie Raitt, King Crimson (“Matte Kundasi”), and Australian rockers The Church (the long-ago top-40 hit “Under The Milky Way”).

The album features excellent local players – notably Jim Gailloreto on saxes and alto flute and Karl Montzka on organ – who smartly support Ruble’s classy, iced-martini interpretations. Several will be be on hand when Ruble takes the stage at the Showcase (806 S. Plymouth Ct.) tonight at 8 and 10 PM.

At the end of this week, pianist and composer Ryan Cohan hits the Green Mill for a pretty timely CD-release event: Cohan’s new disc Another Look (Motéma), guest-starring the exuberant vibraphonist Joe Locke, drops Tuesday (Sept. 14). Cohan’s prowess as a writer has grown in tandem with the power of his playing; each new album offers new revelations. He’ll lead the entire band from the album – his cousin Lorin Cohen on bass, Geof Bradfield on saxes, Kobie Watkins (newly wed) on drums, and vibist Locke – at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway), Friday from 9 till 1, and Saturday from 8 till midnight.

The following week, Geof Bradfield releases his own new CD, the much awaited African Flowers (Origin), though he won’t play in support of the disc till a mid-October CD-release show at the Jazz Showcase. The album draws from Bradfield’s experiences in Africa in 2008, as a member of Ryan Cohan’s band, sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center’s “Rhythm Road” program; Bradfield unveiled the music at a Chicago Cultural Center concert in 2009. African Flowers features pianist Cohan (see above), the multifarious guitarist Jeff Parker, and trumpeter Victor Garcia, among others.

Before that, though, one more event this weekend: the Chicago ex-pat saxist Greg Ward returns home to play a pre-release show for South Side Story (19/8 Records), the debut disc by the edgy quartet he calls Fitted Shards (Rob Clearfield on keys, Jeff Greene on bass, Quin Kirchner on drums). The album arrives Sept. 27, but the band plays this Friday (Sept. 17) at the Velvet Lounge (67 E. Cermak). Ward has become an increasingly important presence, especially since his move to New York last year; Story is the first album by this group.

Then, two weeks from tonight at the Showcase, vocalist Milton Suggs performs in support of his new album Things To Come (Skiptone Music). It’s the second album this year from the young singer, following his duo album with pianist Willie Pickens; this one has a cast of many, including plenty of horns and the exciting young pianist Willerm Delisfort. The spectacular pianist Mike Jellick will head the trio for this gig, featuring two more splendid younger players in John Tate (bass) and Charles Heath (drums).
I’ll review several of these albums more extensively in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, looking ahead, saxist John Goldman reports that he’s headed into the studio to record two new projects with his band Quadrangle: a holiday jazz album due before Christmas, and the “darker and harder-edged” follow-up to this year’s Outside The Box.

And clarinetist James Falzone sends word that his quartet KLANG will record the material they played in their Benny Goodman tribute at the 2009 Chicago Jazz Festival. That set stands among my personal highlights of the last several festivals: it offered a unique perspective, both respectful and progressive, on a musician whose contributions are often taken for granted. The album, set for recording in November, will feature guest artists including cornetist Josh Berman and trombonist Jeb Bishop, with a tentative release date of February 2011.

-Neil Tesser

Neil Tesser has written on and broadcast jazz in Chicago for over 35 years, for outlets ranging from the Chicago READER to USA Today to National Public Radio to PLAYBOY Magazine, and is the author of The PLAYBOY Guide to Jazz (1998). He has authored liner notes for more than 250 albums and has received both a GRAMMY nomination and the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award, as well as the first Jazz Journalists Association award for Excellence in Broadcasting.

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