10:40 AM EDT, March 29, 2013
The very loose, somewhat rough, thoroughly enjoyable show that unfolded at the Jazz Showcase on Thursday night did not follow the club's usual format.
Instead of featuring a main attraction, the whimsically titled "Dynamic Duos" show featured two pairs of Chicago performers, plus additional players entering and exiting the proceedings as well.
One often got the feeling that no one knew exactly what was going to happen next, which was part of the evening's charm.
The most exquisitely polished music-making came from Two for Brazil, a long-running partnership between singer-guitarist Paulinho Garcia and tenor saxophonist Greg Fishman. Though Garcia and Fishman have been playing together for years, each musician tours the country (and beyond) relentlessly, making this engagement a kind of reunion.
The musicians sounded newly inspired by each other's work, with Garcia, especially, offering one musical surprise after another.
For starters, Garcia's scat singing showed more sophistication, complexity and daring than ever. He may have been straining to reach those difficult-to-achieve high notes, but the fact that he was trying for them pointed to an artist challenging himself.
More typically, though, Garcia unfurled some of the most intricate, subtly nuanced vocal lines listeners have heard from him. In Dizzy Gillespie's "A Night in Tunisia," Garcia unreeled sinuous passages bursting with melodic invention, yet all of it delivered softly, delicately and tinged with the rhythmic inflections of his native Brazil. In Paul Desmond's "Take Five," famously recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet, Garcia showed both a nimble vocal technique and surpassing sensitivity of phrase.
Fishman, too, sounded slightly different than what one might have expected, his tenor playing more rambunctious in spirit and open in tone than is his custom. He brought yearning, long-held notes to Antonio Carlos Jobim's "The Jet Samba" (also known as "The Song of the Jet") and a blues sensibility to "A Night in Tunisia."
Clearly, Garcia and Fishman were celebrating the moment.
The evening's other duo also perform together only periodically, so pianist Willie Pickens and vibist Stu Katz had a great deal to say. Some problems with amplification and sound balance marred the first part of their set, but they eventually found their equilibrium.
Pickens' two-fisted chords, thunderous right hand and rumbling bass lines dominated the performance, but Katz's single-note lines often enhanced it. If textures became a bit thick in Thelonious Monk's "Blue Monk," the duo surely captured the lyric beauty of the Lee Morgan ballad "Ceora."
And the two players took flight in the Gershwins' "Who Cares?" Pickens' solos layered multiple themes, his right-hand figures startling in their virtuosity. The fireworks heated up Katz's playing, as well, the vibist pushing the tempo and unleashing an avalanche of notes.
Later in the evening, drummer Robert Shy and bassist Marlene Rosenberg joined the fray, giving the evening more of a jam-session quality than one usually encounters at the Showcase.
In all, an appealing, unscripted change of pace.
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-$30; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com
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