Ari Brown

Regal Theater, Chicago, IL
Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ari Brown & Yosef Ben Israel
Ari Brown & Yosef Ben Israel (Farrad Ali)

Story by Carrie Miller and photos by Farrad Ali and Jane Huh, Copyright 2010

Chicago's top living tenor sax player, Ari Brown, was last Wednesday's act at "Jazz'n at the Regal," Drummer Charles Heath's project to help bring jazz back to the South Side.

Brown recalled watching Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt at the original Regal Theatre at 4719 S. Parkway Blvd., which also played host to Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, among many other greats before it closed in the 1960's. The new Regal is in the former Avalon Theater, a gorgeous Moorish-inspired building that opened in 1927 at 79th and Chicago Avenue, now featuring top-tier acts every Wednesday night with a wallet-friendly $10 cover. Recently featuring Dee Alexander and Henry Johnson, the show is on a work-night friendly schedule as well: doors open at 6 and the show is from 7 to 10.

"I travel all over the world," Brown said, "but finding a place to play jazz on the South Side is one of the hardest things you can really do."

He applauded the efforts of Heath, who toured for two years as a drummer with The Color Purple before returning to Chicago to embark on his current venture.

More than 75 jazz fans also appreciated hearing Brown play - many of whom came mere blocks to catch the two-set show instead of traveling to the Loop and northwards.

"I love it," said Rostelle Reese. "We are people of color and these are our people doing our thing; we don't have to go downtown any more."

Brown certainly did his thing, along with his standard lineup: brother Kirk Brown on keys, Yosef Ben Israel on bass, Avreeayl Ra on drum kit and Dr. Cuz providing additional percussion.

They warmed up with the Henry Mancini standard, "Days of Wine and Roses," followed by two tunes popularized by John Coltrane, "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "Lonnie's Lament." The sometimes-chatty Brown primarily let his horn do the talking for him on Wednesday, leaving the stage frequently to cede the spotlight to the rest of the band. Kirk Brown was at his expansive best, perhaps, on their fourth number, Duke Ellington's "In a Sentimental Mood.' A shaman shake of Dr. Cuz's bells near the end of the tune helped punctuate the song's magic.

Frequently referred to as a "multi-reed" master, Brown proved it on the closing numbers of each set, ambidextreously rapid-fire fingering both the tenor and soprano saxes first on the original number 'Where Do You Want to Go," and later, bringing down the house and closing the show with "You Don't Know What Love Is." The awesome feat twice extracted an ovation from the crowd.

The second set opened with a haunting rendition of "What a Wonderful World," again featuring extended Kirk Brown extended piano solos and an inventive turn or two by Ben Israel. Following that was a sometimes gentle, sometimes frenetic rendition of Mr. P.C. and a soprano-sax turn by Ari Brown on "Shorter's Vibe," with brother Kirk playing firm stride. The audience was moved to ovation by the penultimate song, "Sincerity," from the group's first album, with the brothers Brown taking generous turns on lead.

"You stop that," one woman to my left called out as Ben Israel passionately plucked the strings during his bass solo, giving the evening a feeling of a church-tent revival. Others chimed in with encouragement and directions.

Dr. Cuz and Ra worked in enthusiastic synch throughout the night, and were especially engaging during the numbers with a Latin flavor as Cuz worked the congas and Ra layered intricate rhythmic patterns over the top with several cowbells. Ra also wowed with his infrequent solos and some flashy cross-handed cymbal work.

The beautiful elaborate mosaic tiles in the lobby area were an exotic backdrop for the music and for the delicious and ridiculously affordable $5 per plate soul food dinners of baked chicken, rice and string beans. But they aren't an ideal acoustic backdrop. Sitting at the 15 feet of tables surrounding the stage, the sound was good, but nearer the back the hard tiles and high ceilings seemed to suck air from the band's boundless energy.

Heath is hopeful the steadily growing crowd continues to do so, which would allow him to book internationally acclaimed acts at least once a month - and move the entire party into the more sound-friendly main stage area.

For upcoming shows go to www.chicagoregal.com.

Photos in body of text above by Farrad Ali

Ari Brown (Farrad Ali)

Avreeyal Ra (Farrad Ali)

Kirk Brown (Farrad Ali)

Dr. Cuz & Kirk Brown (Farrad Ali)

Photos below by Jane Huh

Check out other recent concerts reviews and photos

Return to jazzchicago home