9:32 AM CST, January 11, 2013
The art of veteran Chicago pianist Bob Dogan is so subtle, sly and substantial that you can miss its full beauty if you don't pay close attention.
Certainly Dogan's meticulously constructed, even-keel music doesn't call a great deal of attention to itself. Nor does his performance manner, the pianist offering very little in the way of technical flash or any form of ostentation.
Similarly, the quintet he led Thursday night at the Jazz Showcase, where he's playing through Sunday, simply let the music speak for itself, minus long-winded solos and virtuoso display. It was as if all these musicians agreed that the tunes were so hefty, they didn't need to be pumped up or oversold. True enough.
Every Dogan original that the pianist and his ensemble performed held more than enough musical content to ponder – if you leaned in a bit to catch its puckish idiosyncrasies. Odd syncopations and abrupt pauses kept listeners guessing in some tunes; jagged melody lines and pungent harmonies distinguished others. No two pieces sounded alike, and none fit snugly under any stylistic umbrella.
And though it's true that Dogan and the band would have made a fine set even stronger by varying the structure of these performances – all of which followed the same essential model – that was about the only flaw in this evening, and it was a minor one.
The mercurial quality of Dogan's writing was apparent from the outset, in his "369," its odd intervals and twisting melody line a hint of things to come.
Dogan told the large audience that he had written "Ambrosia" as a salute to Horace Silver, and its rhythmic bounce delicately hinted at the funk-tinged music of its dedicatee. More important, though, Dogan and friends argued eloquently for the lyric beauty of the tune itself, particularly via front-line passages featuring Ryan Shultz on bass trumpet and Juli Wood on tenor saxophone in tandem. With Dan DeLorenzo providing warm support on bass, drummer Joe Adamik keeping time crisply and Dogan offering beautifully sculpted single-note lines on piano, "Ambrosia" showed the high craft of Dogan's writing – and the high esteem in which he held his audience, giving listeners credit for being able to savor its understated manner.
The most beautiful Dogan composition of the set, by far, was his "Peace Prayer," its inexorably descending melodic line unfolding over a stately, solemn backbeat. Bass trumpeter Ryan and tenor saxophonist Wood blended dark-hued tones masterfully here, while Dogan's succinct brand of pianism said more with a few well-chosen notes than many pianists do with whole fistfuls of them.
There were other pleasures as well: the winding lines of Dogan's "Rings," elegantly developed by Wood on soprano saxophone; the chromatic, insinuating theme of "Spring Bird"; the buoyant character and bounding energy of Dogan's aptly named "Scoot'n," well chosen as the up-tempo finish to the set.
It's true that thrill-seeking listeners will not necessarily find satisfaction here, nor will those in search of heaven-storming solos and complexly structured improvisations.
But within certain jazz conventions, Dogan's music proved alluring, no two works belonging to the same stylistic vocabulary.
With Dogan, substance wins out over style every time. Bravo for that.
Bob Dogan Quintet
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday; 4, 8 and 10 p.m. Sunday
Where: Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth Ct.
Admission: $20; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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