The Chicago Jazz Festival returns in earnest for its 2022 incarnation, running through August 31 with concerts at neighborhood sites across the cityfollowed by a Labor Day Jazz Weekend beginning September 1 at the Chicago Cultural Center, followed September 2-4 at Millennium Park at the Harris Theater Rooftop, Von Freeman Pavilion and 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 full range, visit jazzinchicago.org.
Here are the highlights of the festival weekend:
Thursday, September 1
Mike Allemana Vonology
6:30-7:30 p.m. Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Fans of the late, legendary Chicago sax player Von Freeman, with whom guitarist Allemana played for years, might be surprised by this involved, choral-infused work. Allemana transforms memories of Freeman’s unique style, energy and jazzlore into a lyrical, astrologically grounded (pardon the oxymoron, bandleader Brian Allemana, Mike’s brother, is an astrologer), quasi-event cleric encouraged by a dozen high-flying co-conspirators. Hear Allemana’s bold playing on “Libra Channeling” betraying the influence of another great Chicago sax player, Steve Coleman.
Henry Threadgill and Zooid
8-9pm Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Iconoclastic Chicago sax/flutist/composer Threadgill is a law unto itself, though Zooid is a rigorously honed unit featuring his favorite instruments, cello (Christopher Hoffman) and tuba (Jose Davila) and intimate accompanists with his fascinating concepts and elusive. The rhythm is always seething, sometimes infuriating, and Threadgill’s outrageous harmony enraged the army brass at the time and had him summarily shipped off to Vietnam. Zooid’s latest album, “Poof” (Pi Recordings 2021), is more porous than ever, but there’s a darker, sardonic space for Davila’s direct trombone, Liberty Ellman’s concise guitar, and the scalpel that’s l inimitable viola of the leader.
Friday, September 2
1:50-2:45 p.m. Von Freeman Pavilion, Millennium Park
The Milwaukee-based trumpeter/composer Johnson is as superb as he is unassuming. He’s led big bands, but this one is fresh as a daisy. In fact, it features drummer Tim Daisy, bassist Ethan Philion (see his epic Mingus Tribute later), and genius violinist Marc Feldman. Johnson’s tunes have bite and foot, just like his horn, you’ll dig!
5:35-6:10 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
The saxist Allen didn’t have it easy growing up in Detroit. He is rooted in jazz and positivity and plays without excessive program, despite his enviable career. He prefers the slightly spartan and pragmatic context of the trio with bass and drums, and masters the format.
Saturday September 3
3 to 4 p.m., Von Freeman Pavilion
The Scandinavian supergroup Atomic brings together the Swedes Magnus Broo (trumpet) and Fredrik Ljungkvist (reeds) with the Norwegians Hans Hulaekmo (drums), the protean pianist Hårvard Wiik and the muscular bassist Ingebrigt Håker Flaten. Stylistic leaps, pressure cooker intensity and dramatic mood swings populate Atomic’s music, surprising pain, however, permeating their pre-pandemic release “Pet Variations.”
5:25-6:10 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion
The quartet of prolific Puerto Rican altoist/composer Zeno has just released “Music De Las Americas” (Honey Music), an artistic examination/debunking of accepted geopolitical histories. Listen to the searing sonic critique of “Venas Abiertas” during the set, which includes stunning bass work from Hans Glawischnig, the leader’s floating virtuosity descending into frustrated chaos, reflecting the lingering disparities between the conjoined continents.
6:25-7:25 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion
If a recent run at the Segals Jazz Showcase was any indication, singer Carmen Lundy is in remarkable shape. She loves her tight, cohesive bands (tenacious Terreon Gully on drums, plus smart guitarist Andrew Renfroe) and her lyrics are researched and idealized. Smooth jazz you say? In “Modern Ancestors” (2019), “Flowers and Candles” is not about a middle-aged dinner party, but about a child witnessing mourners after an atrocity; “Eye of the Hurricane,” a brooding builder, pushes Lundy’s high register to the max. She’ll probably end with her incredibly earthy, world-weary “Burden Down, Burden Down.”
Sunday September 4
Geoff Bradfield/Ben Goldberg/Dana Hall
1:50-2:45 p.m., Von Freeman Pavilion, Millennium Park
Clarinets populate this allstar trio presented on Delmark’s magnificent album “General Semantics”. If you’ve never heard the subterranean chalumeau of the contra-alto clarinet, you’ll appreciate Goldberg’s pas de deux with Bradfield’s tenor sax or bass clarinet, encouraged by Hall’s nimble and urgent brushwork. Maybe they’ll play the “Last major heartbreak of the year” swing.
5:25-6:10 p.m. Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park
Another local team that can compete with the best anywhere, alto saxist/composer Mazzarella assembles a quintet with tenor/flutist Nate Lepine, guitarist Tim Stine and high-flying rhythm buddies Matt Ulery and Quin Kirchner. Mazzarella is a feisty player who writes catchy tunes. Perhaps we’ll hear Eddie Harris’ enthusiastic vibe from “Say What?”, which will give Stine the chance to channel Grant Green, or Pine’s flute on the more pastoral “For Sonny Simmons”?
6:25-7:25 p.m., Jay Pritzker Pavilion
Despite her modest presence, Canadian pianist and record producer Davis is an extremely open-minded, genre-hopping magician with a wild imagination. This band, including drumming legend Terri Lyne Carrington, will draw inspiration from the acclaimed album Diatom Ribbons (Pyroclastic records 2019) and material recently recorded at NYC’s Village Vanguard.
The Chicago Jazz Festival, September 1-4, Chicago Cultural Center and Millennium Park. Hours vary. Visit chicago.gov for the full schedule.