Chicago jazz presenters have wasted no time in launching the New Year, with significant bookings already crowding the calendar.
Among the highlights for the next several evenings
Roy Hargrove: The most popular Chicago jazz club engagement of the year has been extended, which means that if you missed Hargrove as he closed out 2013 at the Jazz Showcase, you have another chance to catch him. When I heard Hargrove opening his engagement on Dec. 26, he sounded much stronger than the year before, when he clearly was struggling. This time, Hargrove showed more tonal heft and rhythmic fire in all of his music, as well as a melting lyricism in his ballad playing. Equally important, the band supports Hargrove quite well, with alto saxophonist Justin Robinson turning in some of the most imposing work Chicago has heard from him. Add to that pianist Sullivan Fortner's soulful virtuosity, Ameen Saleem's sonorous bass playing and Quincy Phillips' evocative drum work, and you have one of the most effective quintets Hargrove ever has led. 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; prices vary; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com.
Larry Coryell: An eminent guitarist, Coryell enjoys a great deal of retrospective acclaim for his early innovations in what has come to be called fusion, but in recent years he has been embracing more fundamental values of jazz improvisation. Perhaps that's partly due to the company he has been keeping, the guitarist collaborating often and elegantly with two superb, unusually versatile Chicago artists: bassist Larry Gray and drummer Paul Wertico. That's the trio Coryell will be leading this time, though not at the Jazz Showcase, as usual, but this time in another inviting venue. Chicago pianist Fred Simon will open the evening. 8 p.m. Friday, Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston; $20-$34; 847-492-8860 or evanstonspace.com
Kurt Elling: The former Chicago singer launched his career here brilliantly a couple of decades ago, thanks to a formidable technique, an irrepressible imagination, an unyielding desire to innovate and a comparably gifted accompanist-arranger: Laurence Hobgood. In the past several years, however, Elling has turned away from the adventurous, daring aspects of his music-making and toward tamer, safer, less challenging work, though he showed welcome sparks of life performing music from his most recent album, the bathed-in-nostalgia "1619 Broadway: The Brill Building Project." Recently, Elling cut loose Hobgood, the artist who helped shape Elling's sound since the start of the singer's career. Whether the change means Elling will continue taking it easy or turn up the intensity again remains to be heard. For this engagement, he'll be joined by pianist Gary Versace. 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday, Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $15; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.
"Celebration of Rob's Life": Chicago bassist Rob Amster toured prolifically with the aforementioned Kurt Elling from the 1990s until a few years ago, and Amster's death in November – at age 49 – cut short an accomplished, still-promising career. Singer Elling and others will convene to celebrate the bassist's life and achievements in an appropriate setting: the Green Mill Jazz Club in Uptown, where Amster played uncounted shows with Elling and others. 1 p.m. Sunday, Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; no cover; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.
Marcia Ball: Though Ball cannot be called exactly a jazz musician, the Southern roots and high spirits of her music hold considerable appeal to jazz listeners. Blues, boogie and R&B course through her music, her high-energy pianism enriching her exuberant approach to singing and songwriting. She'll return to one of her primary venues in this area, FitzGerald's, a room she has played since 1981. It would be difficult to imagine a much more celebratory way of kicking off the New Year with music. 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Rd., Berwyn; $20-$25; 708-788-2118 or fitzgeraldsnightclub.com.
Otis Clay: The distinguished singer transcends genre, his art encompassing everything from jazz and blues to gospel and soul to classical and pop. All of these currents, and others, radiate from his music, a uniquely eclectic art form he has spent a lifetime developing. Moreover, at 71, he still commands a remarkable reserve of vocal power, the rasp of his voice only adding to the depth and character of his interpretations. 8 p.m. Saturday at Evanston SPACE; 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston; $16-$36; 847-492-8860 or evanstonspace.com.
Patricia Barber. One of the great, enduring engagements in Chicago jazz returns for the New Year. Barber fans from around the world travel here to catch this show, and the foreign languages you'll hear spoken in the crowd underscore the point. That a singer-pianist-songwriter of Barber's stature – who's in demand internationally – chooses to stay this close to her Chicago audience with a weekly appearance at the Green Mill says a great deal about her, for she remains an artist steeped in the life and lore of Chicago jazz, even as she helps define it. She'll lead her quartet in repertoire from her critically acclaimed album "Smash" (Concord Jazz) and other fare. 9 p.m. Mondays, Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $7; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.
John Moulder: A leading Chicago guitarist who's also a Catholic priest, Moulder has been enjoying a creative upswing, last year premiering an ambitious suite, "Earthborn Tales of Soul and Spirit." Moulder's catalog of original work runs deep, his compositions harmonically complex, rhythmically restless and melodically unpredictable. He'll be joined by pianist Jim Trompeter, bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Jon Deitemyer. 8 and 10 p.m. Monday, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Court; $5-$10; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com.
The Fat Babies: The name may be whimsical but the musicianship is top-notch, the Fat Babies having become a go-to Chicago band for traditional, pre-bebop jazz. That means music by Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong and other, less celebrated musicians steeped in the values of early jazz. Moreover, the Fat Babies are on a roll, having followed up the exceptional debut album, "Chicago Hot," with last year's equally engaging "18th & Racine." Both recordings, as well as the Fat Babies' live performances, prove once again that even at this late date, vintage repertoire can sound as fresh and vital as if the ink were still drying on the page. The Fat Babies are bassist Beau Sample, cornetist Andy Schumm, reedist John Otto, trombonist Dave Bock, pianist Paul Asaro, banjoist Jake Sanders and drummer Alex Hall. And dancers are welcome. 9 p.m. Tuesdays, Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; $6; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com.
Andy Brown: A suavely understated guitarist, Brown gives listeners a great deal of credit, directing his attention toward the meaning of the song rather than the virtuosity of the soloist. Yet Brown makes his way around the instrument adroitly, which helps explain why he has enjoyed long-running residencies at one of Chicago's most widely trafficked jazz clubs. 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wednesdays, Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.; $10; 312-642-6805 or andysjazzclub.com