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Hear Five Free-Jazz Masters in Chicago This Summer

Avant-garde and melodically disruptive, free-jazz is hot right now. There’s no better time to acquaint (or reacquaint) yourself with these prominent jazz musicians.

Illustration: Lan Truong
Joshua Abrams

Joshua Abrams*, bassist

Photo: Courtesy of artist; Photo Illustration: Andrew Davis

A former member of the hip-hop group the Roots, Abrams grew up in Philadelphia and honed his chops as a member of the house band at the now-shuttered local jazz club Velvet Lounge. “In Chicago, it’s nice that there is a willingness of musicians to help realize each other’s music,” says the 40-year-old, who’s known for his ability to jump genres with ease.
Where to see him next: The Von Freeman Pavilion at 1:10 p.m. on August 29

 

Jason Adasiewicz

Jason Adasiewicz*, vibist

Photo: Andrew A. Nelles/Chicago Tribune; Photo Illustration: Andrew Davis

Few pack the punch of this vibraphone virtuoso, 36, who plays regularly with the likes of Reed and Abrams. (He met Reed at DePaul University.) Famous for his hard-charging eclectic style, the Crystal Lake native says that improvising is “a challenging and intimate conversation” with other musicians.
Where to see him next: With his group Sun Rooms at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion at 2 p.m. on August 31

 

Mike Reed

Mike Reed, drummer

Photo: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune; Photo Illustration: Andrew Davis

Go to any free-jazz series in the city and chances are this 40-year-old Evanston native has something to do with it. Inspired as a kid by iconic jazz drummer Buddy Rich’s musical bouts with Animal on The Muppet Show, Reed developed a passion for percussion. These days, he can be counted on for the understated style he brings to several local groups.
Where to see him next: The Museum of Contemporary Art’s Tuesdays on the Terrace series at 5:30 p.m. on August 26

 

Tomeka Reid

Tomeka Reid*, cellist

Photo: John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune; Photo Illustration: Andrew Davis

Whether plucked or bowed, 35-year-old Reid’s dynamic riffs provide a sturdy backbone to any ensemble she plays with. As one of the few women on the scene, the classically trained D.C. native (she studied music at the University of Maryland, College Park) uses repetition to create ethereal phrases.
Where to see her next: With guitarist Mary Halvorson, drummer Tomas Fujiwara, and bassist Jason Roebke at the Jazz and Heritage Pavilion at 12:30 p.m. on August 31

 

Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark, saxophonist

Photo: Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune; Photo Illustration: Andrew Davis

Known for his textured approach to the reeds, this Andersonville resident has been a staple of the local jazz scene for two decades. The 49-year-old’s wild improvisations have garnered him a number of distinctions, including a coveted MacArthur “genius” grant.
Where to see him next: In an homage to free-jazz composer Hal Russell during the 10th annual Made in Chicago: World Class Jazz series at the Pritzker Pavilion on July 31

 

Free-Jazz Venues


Constellation

3111 N. Western Ave.
Much like free-jazz itself, a night at this North Side hot spot, founded by Mike Reed in April 2013, can go in unexpected directions. With sets ranging from fresh takes on Coltrane to late-night jams that slip into psychedelic sound art, Constellation has become Chicago’s favorite off-center watering hole.

University of Chicago Arts Incubator

301 E. Garfield Blvd.
The brainchild of local art star Theaster Gates, this South Side space hosts a free-jazz session every Sunday night featuring saxophonist and artist-in-residence David Boykin. He invites a rotating cast of musicians to the stage each week, ensuring that listeners never hear the same thing twice.

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