No matter what happens in the economy or in the arts, new waves of young musicians keep pursuing the elusive art of jazz.
Especially in Chicago, where uncounted programs in universities, high schools and elsewhere stoke interest in a music that relentlessly challenges its practitioners.
Yet the performance level stays remarkably high, as a quintet of emerging musicians reaffirmed Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase.
- Bio | E-mail | Recent columns
- PHOTOS: On The Town: 10 things to do in Chicago this weekend
- PHOTOS: Must-see winter music shows in Chicago
- STORY: Jay-Z, Justin Timberlake to play Soldier Field summer concert
- Greg Kot's top 10 albums of 2012
- Photos: Celebrity sightings in Chicago
806 South Plymouth Court, Chicago, IL 60605, USA
Chicago trumpeter Marquis Hill has been increasingly active across the city during the past couple of years, and his late set at the Showcase – before a small but ardently attentive audience – showed the progress he has made. Sharing front-line duties with the equally intrepid alto saxophonist Christopher McBride, Hill demonstrated considerable control, poise and maturity. Though this quintet functioned mostly within certain hard-bop conventions, it clearly was trying to push outside of them.
Most of the music was almost as new to the band as it was to the audience, Hill having penned the tunes for a recording session that's coming up in less than two weeks. Considering the melodic beauty of Hill's themes and the subtle ways the band dispatched them, the recording could be an important one for this ensemble.
As in past performances, the musical relationship between Hill and McBride ultimately defined and drove this ensemble. Kindred spirits, Hill and McBride shared an affinity for soft tones, legato lines and rounded articulation. Even when they allowed the music to become somewhat agitated, there was no mistaking the tapered elegance of their phrasing or the high sheen of their tone.
Not surprisingly, then, their most beautiful music-making of the night emerged in two ballads, played back to back: "I Remember Summer" and Bill Lee's "Again Never" (a tune heard in the film "Mo' Better Blues" by the composer's son, Spike Lee).
Here was phrase-making well beyond Hill and McBride's youth, the tonal glow of their playing matched by the poetry of their lines. The way Hill and McBride dovetailed motifs clearly was the work of two musicians who have spent long hours on the bandstand together.
In up-tempo compositions, the quintet consistently resisted the temptation to play fast and loud, a tendency among nascent musicians eager to conquer the world. Instead, Hill and McBride focused on packing as much content into each bar as possible, while keeping matters interesting by suspending the tempo – or any sense of pulse – at unexpected moments.
During the first half of the set, McBride produced the most ornate solos by far, and an unsuspecting listener might have thought the band was his. Later in the evening, though, Hill belatedly asserted himself, showing he can hold his own in matters of technical acuity on trumpet and fluegelhorn – and ought to more often.
Drummer Jeremy Cunningham led the rhythm section with a breadth of ideas, while bassist Charlie Kirchen and pianist Josh Moshier gave the quintet firm grounding, though one would have liked to have heard more from each of them.
Even so, the Hill quintet launched this engagement with a sure footing and hinted at greater things to come.
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $15-$20; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com