Hyde Park Jazz Festival 2017
by Mark Corrotto
Even though the 11th annual Hyde Park Jazz Festival is on the books and the music is no longer audible, the spirit of the weekend endures. What has become an annual rite and celebration of music, culture, and maybe above, all the spirit of Chicago's South side, is a bucket list experience that you can repeat yearly. The two-day celebration features thirty- five performances at thirteen different venues in and around the University of Chicago campus in Hyde Park. If you do the math, that's sixteen hours of music. Kind of like an ultra-endurance event for the ears.
This year's festival was a celebration of the 100th birthday of Thelonious Monk with four special events honoring the great man. First was Professor Robin Kelley's lecture drawn from his biography "Thelonious Monk: The Life And Times Of An American Original." In the short hour presentation, Kelley dispelled misconceptions about the pianist, such as that he was self-taught and lacked technique. The author played some unreleased home practice recordings to give a bit of insight into just how Monk internalized a melody and mastered it in his own language. The overriding theme of the talk was to allay the myth that Monk was a weirdo. Eccentric yes, but he was also a father and husband and, obvious from his music, a deep thinker.
Monk's music is also difficult to capture because so much of the logic of his compositions is, well, Monk. Never fear though, the performances by Dee Alexander; Monk and The Ladies, pianist Steve Million and Jeremy Kahn's Double Monk, and Ben Goldberg's performance titled, "Learned From Thelonious Monk," gave multiple perspectives on the great man. This reviewer chose performances held indoors rather than those in outside venues because Mother Nature, aided by hurricanes in the Caribbean and Gulf, drove temperatures into the 90s, setting new records all weekend.
Goldberg's solo clarinet performance in Logan Center's Penthouse, an acoustically perfect space, was well studied by the local musicians in attendance. I spied both Josh Berman and Ken Vandermark taking mental notes and, as we all did, admiring the clarinetist's technique. Like Monk, Goldberg used the space between notes as he dealt fragments of the compositions. He played "Evidence" as a bird call, repeating lines as if singing to himself. "Who Knows/Misterioso" could have been a Carl Stalling adaptation for a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The artist paced, turning circles and figure eights, while he played, often using circular breathing.
Maybe we are getting ahead of ourselves. The festival kicked off with Jaimie Branch's Fly Or Die. The trumpeter made a valiant effort to swallow the entire affair with her forceful energy. Backed by drummer Chad Taylor, bassist Jason Ajemian and cellist Tomeka Reid, the tidal wave of sound was awe inspiring and occasionally overwhelming. In between bits of overblown distortion and atmospheric passages, she delivered pulse raising dance beats and a jaw dropping trumpet tone.
Tomeka Reid could be found in multiple lineups, including Fly or Die, Dee Alexander's Monk And The Ladies, and in duo with saxophonist Nick Mazzarella. This duo, which released Signaling (Nessa, 2017), delivered a creative music feast in the spirit of an Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) performance. Mazzarella's sound is often compared to that of Ornette Coleman, but let's add a touch of Jackie McLean and some Julius Hemphill. He's skilled in overtones and extended technique, as is Reid, who often added clips and sticks to create a prepared cello. She would bow and tap, and sometimes pluck notes like Oscar Pettiford's broken arm experiments. Their more open-ended start was drawn to a conclusion with a rousing country/blues performance that ignited the audience.
Geof Bradfield presented a world premier with his suite suite "Yes, and... Music for Nine Improviser," a tribute to the Compass players, a 1950s improvisatory comedy group that spawned Second City and Saturday Night Live. His nine-piece ensemble mixed tight arrangements with free-wheeling improvisation. Bradfield's ensembles are the musical equivalent of a military special ops unit. The band is tightly drilled, but draws out the unique characteristics of individual players. Often it was difficult to tell who was enjoying the music the most, the audience or the musicians. I'm certainly not going to tell saxophonist Greg Ward to wipe that smile off his face.
A special treat was the appearance of drummer Andrew Cyrille, who is approaching eighty, in duo with saxophonist Bill McHenry. The pair traded licks, Cyrille with an often minimalist style, and McHenry, with his seductive, luscious tone produced an imperturbable performance. Their cover of Famoudou Don Moye's (of Art Ensemble of Chicago) "Fabula" displayed their velvety touch with hints of John Coltrane's dharma path included.
This reviewer missed the performance by Twin Talk, but heard rumors that the trio of Dustin Laurenzi, Andrew Green, and Katie Ernst gave another outstanding performance. In a perfect world, I would have heard among many others, Jeremy Pelt, Ari Brown, Amina Claudine Myers, Nicole Mitchell, Joe Locke and Warren Wolf. But then, there's always next year.