Dee Alexander

If "free jazz" sounds more like an activist’s cry than a music genre, listen up: The third annual Umbrella Music Festival offers a primer on local and international improv-jazz acts—not to mention the chance to check out the clubs that keep the experimental scene jumping all year. Our top picks:

European Jazz Meets Chicago
Opening night is a mini fest unto itself: Brilliant innovators from Switzerland, Poland, and the Netherlands collaborate with Chicago luminaries like Jeff Parker and Jeb Bishop. Nov 5 at 6. Free. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E Washington.

Alexander von Schlippenbach
The German bandleader and composer usually works his magic on an orchestral scale, but listeners can experience his creative impulses up close and personal at this intimate nightcap. Nov 6 at 11. $15. The Velvet Lounge, 67 E Cermak.

He’s rooted in Ellington and Monk, but the Dutch pianist Michiel Braam usually ventures far afield. Here, he assembles a Chicago-
flavored incarnation of his big band, featuring the Umbrella cofounder and sax man Dave Rempis. Nov 7 at 11. $15. Elastic, 2830 N Milwaukee.

Douglas Ewart and Inventions
The Association for the Advancement of Crea-tive Musicians’ all-star reed frontline of Ewart, Ed Wilkerson Jr., and Mwata Bowden drives this local gem, with ringer Dee Alexander on vocals. Nov 8 at 11. $15. The Hideout, 1354 W Wabansia.

John Tchicai Septet
A free-jazz pioneer, saxophonist Tchicai closes five nights of adventurous music making with an ensemble featuring Chicago’s go-to flutist Nicole Mitchell and drummer Mike Reed. Nov 9 at 11. $15. The Hungry Brain, 2319 W Belmont.

The Umbrella Music Festival runs Nov 5-9. Full schedule:

Photography: Lauren Deutsch