From Henry Threadgill to Carmen Lundy to Mike Allemana, an eclectic mix awaits at Chicago Jazz Festival
Labor Day weekend will be filled with the sounds of jazz emanating from Millennium Park.
The Chicago Jazz Festival returns in earnest for its 2022 incarnation, running through Aug. 31 with concerts at neighborhood sites across the city, followed by a Labor Day weekend of jazz starting on Sept. 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center, followed Sept. 2-4 in Millennium Park at the Harris Theater Rooftop, the Von Freeman Pavilion and the Jay Pritzker Pavilion.
Produced by the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and programmed by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, all concerts are free.
For the complete lineup, visit jazzinchicago.org.
Following are highlights of the festival weekend:
Thursday, Sept. 1
Mike Allemana Vonology
6.30-7.30 p.m. Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Fans of the late storied saxist from Chicago Von Freeman, with whom guitarist Allemana played for years, may be surprised at this involved choral-infused work. Allemana morphs memories of Freeman’s unique style, energy and jazzlore into a lyrical, astrologically grounded (forgive the oxymoron, conductor Brian Allemana, Mike’s brother, is an astrologist), quasi-religious occurrence abetted by a dozen top-flight co-conspirators. Listen for Allemana’s audacious playing on “Libra Channelling” betraying the influence of another great Chicago saxist, Steve Coleman.
Henry Threadgill and Zooid
8-9 p.m. Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Iconoclastic Chicago saxist/flautist/composer Threadgill is a law unto himself, although Zooid is a rigorously honed unit embracing his favorite instruments, cello (Christopher Hoffman) and tuba (Jose Davila) and sidemen intimate with his fascinatingly elusive concepts. The beat is always bubbling, sometimes maddeningly, and Threadgill’s outré harmony enraged Army brass back in the day and got him summarily shipped to Vietnam. Zooid’s latest, “Poof” (Pi Recordings 2021), is as intriguingly porous as ever, but there is more bleakly sardonic space for Davila’s forthright trombone, Liberty Ellman’s pithy guitar, and the scalpel that is the leader’s inimitable alto.
Friday, Sept. 2
1:50-2:45 p.m. Von Freeman Pavilion, Millennium Park
Milwaukee-based trumpeter/composer Johnson is as superb as he is unassuming. He’s led some great groups but this one is fresh as a daisy. In fact it features drummer Tim Daisy, bassist Ethan Philion (check his epic Mingus Tribute later) and the genius that is violinist Marc Feldman. Johnson’s tunes have bite and kick, as does his horn, you’ll dig!
5:35-6:10 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Saxist Allen didn’t have it easy growing up in Detroit. He embedded himself in jazz and positivity and plays with no overweening agenda, despite his enviable career. He prefers the somewhat spartan, no-nonsense context of the trio with bass and drums, and is a master of the format.
Saturday, Sept. 3
3 to 4 p.m., Von Freeman Pavilion
Scandinavian supergroup Atomic unites Swedes Magnus Broo (trumpet) and Fredrik Ljungkvist (reeds) with Norwegians Hans Hulaekmo (drums), protean pianist Hårvard Wiik and muscular bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Stylistic jumpcuts, pressure cooker intensity and dramatic mood shifts populate Atomic’s music, a surprising douleur, however, permeating their pre-pandemic release “Pet Variations.”
5:25-6:10 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Prolific Puerto Rican altoist/composer Zénon’s quartet just released “Music De Las Americas” (Miel Music), an artistic examination/debunking of accepted geopolitical histories. Listen for the scalding sonic critique of “Venas Abiertas” during the set, which includes stunning bass work from Hans Glawischnig, the fleet virtuosity of the leader descending into frustrated chaos, reflective of the ongoing disparities between conjoined continents.
6:25-7:25 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion
If a recent run at Segals’ Jazz Showcase was indication, singer Carmen Lundy is on remarkable form. She likes her bands tight and supportive (the tensile Terreon Gully is on drums, plus intelligent guitarist Andrew Renfroe) and her lyrics are searching and idealized. Smooth jazz you say? On “Modern Ancestors” (2019), “Flowers and Candles” is not about a middle-aged dinner date but a kid witnessing mourners after an atrocity; “Eye of the Hurricane,” a brooding builder, pushes Lundy’s high register to the max. She’ll probably close with her impossibly earthy, world-weary “Burden Down, Burden Down.”
Sunday, Sept. 4
Geoff Bradfield/Ben Goldberg/Dana Hall
1:50-2:45 p.m., Von Freeman Pavilion, Millennium Park
Clarinets populate this allstar trio featured on the gorgeous Delmark album “General Semantics.” If you have never heard the subterranean chalumeau of contra-alto clarinet, you’ll enjoy Goldberg’s pas de deux with Bradfield’s tenor sax or bass clarinet, egged on by Hall’s agile, urgent brushes. Perhaps they’ll play the swinging “Last Important Heartbreak of the Year.”
5:25-6:10 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Another local team that can stand against the best anywhere, alto saxist/composer Mazzarella corrals a quintet with tenorist/flautist Nate Lepine, guitarist Tim Stine and topflight rhythm buddies Matt Ulery and Quin Kirchner. Mazzarella is a fiery player who writes hooky tunes. Perhaps we’ll hear the keening Eddie Harris vibe of “Say What?,” which will give Stine chance to channel Grant Green, or Lepine’s flute on the more pastoral “For Sonny Simmons”?
6:25-7:25 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Despite her unassuming presence, Canadian pianist and record producer Davis is a wildly open-minded, genre-hopping wizard, possessed of a vivid imagination. This group, including drum legend Terri Lyne Carrington, will be drawing from the lauded Diatom Ribbons album (Pyroclastic records 2019) and material recently recorded at NYC’s Village Vanguard.
The Chicago Jazz Festival, Sept. 1-4, Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. Hours vary. Visit chicago.gov for complete schedule.