The jazz pianist Laurence Hobgood
Hobgood, the long-time accompanist for Kurt Elling, leads a sextet at the Green Mill, April 30th and May 1st. 


Maurice Brown also at the Green Mill; Metheny plays Symphony Center

JAZZ The May calendar appears to be swinging madly. Here are three great options:

1. Homecomings. Chicago has a long history of losing some of its best players to the bright lights of the Big Apple, but we always welcome them back with open arms (and ears), and that will once again be the case—times two—this month in Uptown. The pianist Laurence Hobgood is perhaps best known as the long-time collaborator and accompanist of the singer Kurt Elling, in equal measure for his sterling keyboard work and ingenious small-group arrangements. Last year, Hobgood put out the tremendous solo/duo album, When the Heart Dances, with the legendary bassist Charlie Haden; but for this trip back to Chicago he’ll lead a sextet of old local friends, including the saxophonists John Wojciechowski and Pat Mallinger. The following week, treat mom to a classic highball and some great jazz music on Mother’s Day weekend as another NYC-by-way-of-ORD native son (with a few good years in New Orleans) makes the trip home. The Harvey-born trumpeter Maurice Brown brings his Maurice Brown Effect band to Uptown on the heels of his second impressive release as a leader, The Cycle of Love.

GO: (Hobgood) April 30-May 1, (Brown) May 7-8. $12. Green Mill Cocktail Lounge, 4802 N Broadway.

2.  Metheny Battles the Musical Robots. As the title and accompanying liner photos of his recent one-man-band album Orchestrion suggest, the veteran jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has apparently been raiding flea markets and bandrooms far and wide to assemble a 21st century take on the titular mechanized music box of old. While his signature six-string sound remains at the fore, the accompaniment is left to a bizarre phalanx of switch-driven and pneumatic-controlled instruments (vibes, drums, bass, piano—even a blown-bottle organ from Chicago-based Peterson Electro-Musical Products) that Metheny directs live on stage via pedals and computers. Metheny’s giant erector set may help expand the audience for jazz—perhaps reaching out beyond the usual fan base to draw in everyone from home inventors to Dr. Seuss aficionados to nervous musicians’ union representatives—but whether this traveling oddity can actually work on some musical level beyond gimmickry remains to be seen (and heard).

GO: May 10. $20-$55. Symphony Center, 220 S Michigan.

3. Vandy, Cubed. The Ken Vandermark CD Release Festival will do nothing to dispel the notion that the probing, prolific saxophonist has a seemingly endless pipeline of new groups and recordings. This three-night mini-residency at Fred Anderson‘s glorious South Side hole-in-the-wall features Vandermark with some of his frequent collaborators in a variety of configurations, including a duo with the drummer Tim Daisy (celebrating the release of Light on the Wall), the Frame Quartet with Daisy, the bassist Nate McBride, and the cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm (supporting the new CD 35mm), and the standard-bearing Vandermark 5 with Daisy, Lonberg-Holm, the bassist Kent Kessler, and the saxophonist Dave Rempis (all featured on the new Annular Gift).

GO: May 6-8. $10-$20. Velvet Lounge, 67 E Cermak.

Photograph: Courtesy Laurence Hobgood