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Review: Two top Chicago saxists kick off Charlie Parker Month at Jazz Showcase

Howard Reich

9:29 AM EDT, August 2, 2013

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What a lively way to kick off the 59th annual "August is Charlie Parker Month" at the Jazz Showcase – with two saxophonists instead of one.

When the horns belong to Chicagoans Eric Schneider and Pat Mallinger, fireworks are likely to ensue, and indeed they did on Thursday evening. Though one wished the two players would have interacted more directly than they did, their solos were quite satisfying, and their occasional duetting hinted at what they might yet achieve as the engagement proceeds.

Schneider and Mallinger hit hard in Parker's "Cool Blues," each playing alto saxophone in front of a strong Chicago rhythm unit: pianist Stu Katz, bassist Marlene Rosenberg and drummer Robert Shy. Though Katz never had played with Mallinger before, most of these musicians have collaborated in one context or another, and you could hear it in their jointly aggressive approach to the language of bebop.

Mallinger and Schneider each commands a sterling reputation in Chicago jazz, but their distinctive styles became more apparent than ever as they shared the stage. Schneider's tone was hotter and his rhythmic drive more pressing than Mallinger's in "Cool Blues" and elsewhere in their first set, the man playing as if he had something to prove.

Or perhaps the Parker homage simply brought out the most ferocious side of Schneider's art. Either way, he was in peak form on this evening, opening with a profusion of notes, wailing in long-held pitches and piling one climax atop another.

Mallinger did not take the bait in "Cool Blues," instead producing a more muted timbre, sliding up to key pitches and taking a somewhat more deliberate attitude toward phrase-making. His was a cooler "Cool Blues," gathering momentum at his own pace, not Schneider's.

The two saxophonists made more of a connection on "Just Friends," which Parker famously recorded on his "Charlie Parker with Strings" sessions. This time, Schneider and Mallinger turned to tenor saxophones and produced some of the most lustrous music of the evening.

Mallinger took the first solo, his blues sensibility and easy swing rhythm well suited to the tune and underscoring the subtlety and nuance of his best work. Even when he set off fast-flying flurries of pitches, he took time to breathe between phrases.

Schneider again offered an avalanche of sound, but it was what the two did together in the recap that proved most moving. Each took turns embellishing the melody, while the other dovetailed with counter themes of his own. That's when you heard what two seasoned musicians can accomplish when they're playing in tandem or toe-to-toe, and that's what this performance needs more of.

Each saxophonist led the band on his own, as well, and each had a great deal to say. Mallinger's lines floated gently above the beat in Victor Young's music from the film "Samson and Delilah," and Schneider packed a profusion of ideas into "A Beautiful Friendship."

But when they locked horns on "Hot House," they produced energy that Parker himself might have admired, inventing mercurial riffs on the spot.

The more these musicians engage, the better this show will be.

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

Eric Schneider/Pat Mallinger Quintet

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-$35; 312-360-0234 or jazzshowcase.com