As usual, the Chicago Jazz Festival (which starts today at the Cultural Center) will control the ear space over Chicago from noon till dark, straight on through Labor Day. But as committed festival-goers long ago learned – hard-earned knowledge bolstered by the memory of many music hangovers – there’s a whole other carnival of jazz taking place after the parks close down. The proof lies in the hefty lineup of ancillary events, in various clubs and pop-up performance venues, galvanized by the official Festival programming.
Jazz fans already know they’ll be spending Thursday afternoon through Sunday evening along the lake — at the Chicago Cultural Center, Pritzker Pavilion, and in Grant Park. But the after-festival scene sprawls across the city, and you might want to start planning your itinerary now, with this first of three postings about your post-park options.
One event constitutes a miniature festival in its own right, as the resurrected New York bassist Henry Grimes returns to Chicago for a slew of performances. It’s no surprise to find Grimes in town during the Festival: he spent the last several Labor Day weekends appearing in multiple contexts at the much-missed Velvet Lounge, the historic club operated by the equally lamented Fred Anderson until his death 15 months ago.
Grimes’s colorful and episodic career would make a pretty good TV movie, and it did supply the stuff of various human-interest stories when he re-appeared, after a 35-year hiatus in, 2002. A pioneering avant-garde bassist, he recorded iconic albums with Steve Lacy, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Sonny Rollins before falling off the map in the mid-60s. Since returning to the scene, Grimes’s unfettered approach to rhythm and even timbre have opened a window into the past for modern listeners, even as he has stretched his often mystifying solos (on violin as well as bass) into the present.
His performances this year are anchored by a peripatetic “residency” with the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, the brainchild of violinist Reneé Baker. Baker, who effortlessly fuses her classical training with a striking rhythmic authority, has quietly risen to the top echelon of improvising string players, and her ambitious compositional agenda has populated several separate ensembles.
Baker will lead members of this latest project behind Grimes and the New Orleans tenor titan Kidd Jordan – whose screaming, throaty saxophone exhortations have been a staple of Jazz Festival after-sets for roughly two decades – at Brown Rice, the tiny storefront space at 4432 N. Kedzie, Thursday night starting at 9 PM.
Friday brings two performances from Grimes. The first, again with Baker’s Modern Orchestra Project, takes place at 8 PM at DeFibrillator in Wicker Park (1136 N. Milwaukee Ave). Immediately after, Grimes will scoot north on Milwaukee Avenue to the Logan Square Arts Center (2810 N. Milwaukee), to play with a group headed up AACM sax stalwart Mwata Bowden. The band – which again adds Kidd Jordan, this time to a lineup featuring reedmen Douglas Ewart and Edward Wilkerson, as well as second bass man Tatsu Aoki and drummer Avreeayl Ra – should re-create some of the manic freedom that packed the Velvet Lounge in previous years. The set is scheduled for 10:30 PM.
Saturday (Sep. 3) at 10 PM, Grimes rejoins Baker and company to perform with saxophonist David Boykin for the first night of Hereafterfest, a weekend series at Heaven Gallery in Wicker Park (up one flight at 1550 N. Milwaukee Avenue). And Sunday evening at 8 PM, the bassist and members of Mantra Blue Free Orchestra – a separate jazz-and-strings outfit led by Baker – will appear where he started the week, at Brown Rice. (Grimes will also join WHPK radio host Lofton Emenari for an interview at 3 PM Sunday, streaming at the station’s site.)
By the way, another frequent Jazz Festival presence, saxophonist Francis Wong, arrived this week from his northern California home to present several Festival and after-fest performances. Thursday afternoon at the Cultural Center he performs Shanghai Stories, a multi-movement work that combines musical impulses from east and west to recount the tale of his father’s childhood in 1920s Shanghai, China.
Wong will also join forces with Grimes, Jordan, and the host of Chicago artists performing in Logan Square on Friday night (see above). And while nothing else is scheduled at the moment, I’ll be amazed if that’s all the music he makes before Monday rolls around.
In years past, these three artists – Henry Grimes, Kidd Jordan, and Francis Wong – regularly journeyed to Chicago from three corners of the country for Jazz Festival after-sessions. In so doing, each proved his often-stated admiration for Fred Anderson, while lighting up the Velvet Lounge with ineradicable memories. Their presence again this year ought to compensate for — if not exactly replace — the ongoing spirit of that club and its owner.
Later today: More on what’s happening each night after the parks close down