Fareed Haque swings back into jazz

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To his admirers, Chicago guitarist Fareed Haque epitomizes the eclectic appeal of world music. During the past couple of decades, his musical explorations have led him to embrace jazz, classical, fusion, Indian, Asian and other alluring sounds from around the globe.

So no one would have expected Haque – who has created a broad range of music in bands such as the Flat Earth Ensemble, MathGames! and Garaj Mahal – to record a hard-core jazz album featuring standards such as Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (and That Ain't Good)" and John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." But "Out of Nowhere," Haque's newest recording, features these works and other unanticipated fare, such as the somewhat pulpy "Lollipops and Roses" and the title tune.

"It's basically about as close as I've come to a straight-ahead record," says Haque, who will be celebrating the release of "Out of Nowhere" Friday and Saturday nights at the Green Mill Jazz Club.

"I felt like it was time. I've always directed my efforts, sometimes for better or for worse, to what I feel was important to say. Not necessarily what's going to sell records, not necessarily what's going to be hip or in style, just what I felt was important.

"And I got to the point where I was looking around, and I realized that I've been on the road with so many great musicians, done my own gigs, for so long now – and I would say the lion's share of the time I've never played one standard. And even when I did play a standard, it was an arrangement of a standard, so that the sentiment of 'let's just get together and hit' was kind of lost.

"And I really started to miss that, and I felt like audiences were missing that."

So not long ago Haque began re-immersing himself in bread-and-butter jazz repertory and its accompanying joys. In concert, he was surprised that his audience was willing to take this stylistic turn with him, he says, though no one is going to accuse him of kicking back and relaxing. On the "Out of Nowhere" recording, for instance, Haque collaborates with the innovative Chicago pianist Rob Clearfield and the tabla player Salar Nader, musicians whose work flourishes well outside the jazz mainstream.

Even in standards, it would seem, Haque cannot help tweaking expectations. That the album also features such jazz eminences as bassist George Mraz and drummer Billy Hart says something about Haque's stature in the world of music.

For Haque, the sojourn back to his jazz beginnings has been restorative.

"For me, it felt like, finally, I'm back in my living room," says Haque, who will lead his Chicago quartet at the Green Mill featuring pianist Willerm Delisfort, bassist Alex Austin and drummer Greg Fundis.

"Part of it is that world music, at its best, is always an exercise in the art of translation and communication across barriers. But to get together and play songs with a bunch of your homies – how intuitive and instinctive and genuinely effortless that process can be....

"There are a lot of subtleties to swing that are elusive," adds Haque, who has taught at Northern Illinois University since 1988 and recently became a full professor of guitar and jazz there.

"And if you don't have a group that can all play with the understanding of swing, swing disappears....

"My whole interest in world music has been to always keep that swing in there. Re-establishing that connection to Chicago, to Von Freeman, to my roots, to the music I loved first – jazz."

Also worth hearing

Chris Foreman: One sure way to know the New Year is fully under way: Foreman is behind the Hammond B-3 organ at the Green Mill. He leads a loose, conversational show, taking requests from listeners – or spoofing them. Either way, hearing a musician of Foreman's aplomb doling out great songs and zingy one-liners makes this a uniquely Chicago gathering. 5 to 8 p.m. Fridays at the Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway; no cover; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com

Mike Smith: The mighty Chicago saxophonist has held a regular engagement at Andy's Jazz Club for more than three decades, but he's taking a bit of a hiatus from the grind this winter. The upshot for fans of Smith's work is that he'll step in to a featured engagement, leading his quartet this weekend in the prime-time slot. He surely deserves it. 9:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.; $15; 312-642-6805 or andysjazzclub.com

Eddie "The Chief" Clearwater: A majestic blues singer-guitarist, Clearwater will mark his 79th birthday in the best way possible: making music. He'll celebrate the occasion – and kick off his next year of concertizing – in one of Chicago's more inviting listening rooms. The session will be recorded for his next album. 8 p.m. Friday at Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston; $15-$27; 847-492-8860 or evanstonspace.com

Alfonso Ponticelli: Audiences smitten with gypsy jazz congregate weekly at the Green Mill to hear guitarist Ponticelli lead his Swing Gitan band, but once a month he appears at Katerina's for a late-night session in which any number of musicians might drop by. Ponticelli's exuberant guitar playing, as well as his penchant for updating certain traditions, remains at the center of the music-making. 10 p.m. Saturday at Katerina's, 1920 W. Irving Park Rd.; $10; 773-348-7592 or katerinas.com

Janis Siegel: The veteran singer, best known for her work in the vocal ensemble The Manhattan Transfer, also has long nurtured a noteworthy solo career, as well. She'll celebrate the release of her first solo album in several years, "Nightsongs: A Late Night Interlude," featuring standards such as "Midnight Sun," "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing" and "Lover." Chicago singer Typhanie Monique, a vocalist of considerable presence and technical acuity, will open the evening. 7 p.m. Sunday at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St.; $24-$32; 312-733-9463 or citywinery.com

Pharez Whitted: A virtuoso trumpeter blessed with an enormous sound, Whitted leads a lively weekly jam session joined by formidable players and open to musicians who want to sit in. 7 and 9:30 p.m. Sundays at Andy's Jazz Club, 11 E. Hubbard St.; $10 (free for performing musicians); 312-642-6805 or andysjazzclub.com

Jonathan Batiste: New Orleans pianist Batiste has appeared as sideman periodically in Chicago, but here's a rare opportunity to hear him front and center, leading his own band, Stay Human. The ensemble features alto saxophonist Eddie Barbash, tuba player Ibanda Ruhumbika and percussionist Joe Saylor. 8 p.m. Monday at City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph St.; 312-733-9463 or citywinery.com

hreich@tribune.com

Twitter @howardreich

Fareed Haque

When: 9 p.m. Friday and 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway

Tickets: $12; 773-878-5552 or greenmilljazz.com

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