Story by Brad Walseth
Downbeat Magazine recently anointed young saxophonist Mahanthappa as it's #1 rising star, while veteran saxman Bunky Green has long been a Chi-town favorite, so I'm sure there was considerable interest and excitement when this concert was announced. With an evening of much needed great weather for once, the young Indian-American altoist presented a new suite dedicated to a town where he spent time at Depaul University and playing with the locals: Chicago. Besides the legendary Green, Mahanthappa recruited old Chicago friends Ron Perillo (piano), Tito Carillo (trumpet), Eric Montzka (drums) and Ryan Schultz (bass trumpet) to bring his project to life, while bringing his usual cohort, world-class musician Francis Moutin to fill the bass chair. It is a pleasure to report that the evening was wonderful in all regards. And to say they succeeded in performing the music well, while delighting the crowd would be an understatement.
Photos by John Broughton and James Walker, Jr.
After an opening sitar-like solo by Mahanthappa, the music settled into a more Americanized brand of jazz. Excellent solos by Schultz and Montzka, but Moutin nearly stole the show with his fiery bass solo, which gave Chicago audiences a glimpse of the talent with which the Frenchmen has made his reputation.
The horns retreated off the stage to showcase the great Bunky Green, who now emerged and took his place in the center for a quartet feature. The crowd favorite did not disappoint, as he wove Coltrane-ish solos to cheers and applause. Not to be outdone, piano star Perillo's solo raised audible gasps and thundering claps as well.
The uptempo opening number of the five-movement Chicago Legacy Suite featured Mahanthappa, Green, Carillo and Schultz executing rapid and intricate horn interchanges that bordered on cacophonous, and which resembled the sounds car horns and traffic. Trading 8's, the horns blew hard and strong. Mahanthappa's clear energetic tone was matched by Carillo, one of Chicago's best trumpeters. The heat and energy being produced was palpable as the band careened at breakneck speed. This was youthful and muscular music and not for shrinking violets.
The movements used elements of blues, tangos, waltzes and modern off-kilter rhythms effectively, with moments of sublime beauty transferring into explosions of intensity. Through it all, the rhythm section of Montzka and Moutin was percussive, while Perillo centered the melody and the horns shimmered with bell-like tones. Mahanthappa often gave way to his veteran mentor, and Green's playing, especially on another quartet interlude (a waltz) was simply rapturous, with impeccable note choices and utter sensitivity on the older man's part.
A perfect evening at the Pritzker with the best of young and old that the Jazz world has to offer.