In these very (web)pages I’ve extolled the coolness of Chicago’s legendary jazz club the Green Mill, so I shan’t repeat myself. But this past V-Day in the Windy/Big-Shouldered City was indeed special, but not for the temporal pleasures/seizures of the holiday (feh), but rather because trumpeter/composer Dave Douglas has made a rare appearance here. [His first, maybe? I’m not certain.] It was enough of an Event that despite the cold (and it surely was, indeed), there was a line around the corner from the Green Mill (in the city's Uptown/Andersonville section, near the Red Line El) waiting to get in...and there was still a line even after the first set was done.
Douglas brought with him the selfsame (working) quintet as on his latest (& maybe greatest) album Strange Liberation (Bluebird Jazz), minus, alas, guest artist Bill Frisell. But this quintet is a practiced unit, tight, professional but inspired. Tenor saxophonist Chris Potter has proven himself in the past to be an ace bop/post-bop player, but tonight, with Douglas, he’s shown he’s ready for the Big Leagues, to enter the pantheon of Big Shots, up there with inside/out masters Wayne Shorter, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson and Joe Lovano. His playing was hearty, surging and charged with blues/R&B underpinnings. Pianist Uri Caine here sticking to the Fender Rhodes electric model sound like a synthesis of 1960s soul-jazz pianists Junior Mance and Bobby Timmons and Return To Forever (mk. 1) era Chick Corea (with a bit of Steve Winwood in his jazzier moments): earthy, direct, funky, energetic, playing at dizzying velocity but always lyrical, funky and thoughtful. Bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn always kept the rhythms solid, even when they were going "against the grain" the horns would play tight, singing Blue Note-style moldy lines and they would play a little slower or a little uneasy, a tiny bit dissonant in contrast to the horns’ brisk bop blitz. Douglas himself was excellent as usual: his style is a winning, unselfconscious synthesis of Miles, Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Lester Bowie and (especially) Woody Shaw (though lately he sounds a bit less Miles-ish): great technique, but his technique serves the music, not the other way around; brassy, crackling, fiery, squeezing out vocalized smears and blats but always in judicious measure unlike many younger players, he does something with his inspirations as opposed to sounding like he’s paying too-dear tribute to them. These hepcats played as a fierce unit, even when they seize on some joyous skronk or got a bit abstract/loose-form, they always knew when to reign it back in and get back to the hard-bopping, Third Stream & funky (in the old-old-school Horace Silver/Cannonball Adderley manner), swinging jazz, which the nearly packed house ate with relish, with fork ‘n’ spoon. Oh, did I mention Douglas feel for compelling compositions? In the third and last set, DD & co. weaved a slightly melancholy, so near yet so far melody that would’ve fit so well into John Barry’s score for Midnight Cowboy. Also, unlike a lot of jazz, first we play together, then I solo as you stand there/a series of solos, etc./then play in unison again bands, solos would lead into tandem and/or "dueling"/call & response passages, or a tune would begin mellow or a bit abstract, then the "head" would appear in the middle of the tune typical format means little to this Douglas fellow, yet his compositional/arranging approach never came across as being "different" for its own sake. Simply put, this Feb. 14 show may’ve just been one of the best jazz shows I’ve ever seen, and I’ll stand on the coffee table in my hi-top sneakers of any artist on the Blue Note or High Note labels and say that with pride.