Monday, April 20, 2015

Goin' "globo"

One of the pleasures of living in Chicago is that it is also home to jazz trumpeter Orbert Davis. I'm not sure when we met, but if you are paying close attention to music in Chicago, he's a hard guy to avoid. He is, of course, a musician of amazing dexterity and taste, but he's also an ambitious conceptualist and visionary, unafraid to pursue daunting projects, not the least of which was the founding of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic in 2004.

Meanwhile, Chicago is likewise the home (and by home I mean I'm pretty sure that's where he sleeps at night) of Howard Levy. A virtuoso harmonica player, he's also a terrific pianist. I know him mostly as music director of Chévere de Chicago, a Latin jazz supergroup if there ever was one, but the rest of the world might know him better as a founding member of Bela Fleck & the Flecktones.

A year doesn't go by when I don't encounter one of these guys in performance. Chévere killed at the Chicago Jazz Festival last year, and the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic's 2013 collaboration with River North Dance Chicago, Havana Blue, was simply one of the best concerts I experienced that year.

It's about time these two got together.

One of Levy's ongoing projects is the world music ensemble Trio Globo. He's not the 'leader' per se, but an equal partner with drummer/percussionist Glen Velez and cellist Eugene Friesen. Over the course of three albums, they've explored a a rich mix of Eastern European folkloric music, American bluegrass, Latin rhythms and, of course, jazz. This weekend, Trio Globo will be the guests of the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble for a pair of performances.

Writing for strings in an improvisational context means that you need to capture the swing of jazz, even when the musicians are playing notes on paper. Fortunately, Orbert Davis has already shown some pretty heavy chops in this area through the many ambitious projects tackled by the CJP. And despite the presence of piano and harmonica, Trio Globo's acoustic sound often brings to mind a rural front porch jam session. The fiddles just seem to be there, even if they are not.

If Trio Globo has attempted this sort of thing before, I'm unaware of it. Davis, meanwhile, seems to have no end to his curiosity at trying new challenges. New projects are, of course, fraught with risk. Lucky for us that there seems to be something in the water here in Chicago from which artists can drink, get a little tipsy, and think "Why the heck not?"