Story & Photos by Brad Walseth, Copyright 2011
Nick Eipers' Chicago Sessions record label has released several acclaimed recordings over the past few years. Last week, some of the artists on the label were featured at Chicago's venerable Jazz Showcase. Saxophonist Shawn Maxwell's quartet appeared Thursday night, bassist Larry Gray's group was featured on Friday, while Paul Wertico's Mid-East/Mid-West Alliance played for a packed house Saturday night. On Sunday, Maxwell's group played the matinee set, while pianist Marshall Vente's quartet took the later slot. I was there on Sunday and caught the latter two groups in action.
Maxwell's crew hit the stage running and played a hard-hitting set of all original, Maxwell-penned numbers, starting with the new song they opened with: "Yo Gabba Blues." Backed by his usual able band members Brandon Dickert on drums and Bob Lovecchio on bass, as well as talented young pianist Ben Neumann, Maxwell performed several numbers from his well-received Maxwell's House recording, including "Sector 7-G," "Different Colors of Cool" and "Storm." That last number featured the powerful drumming of Dickert, while the other band members offered fine solos of their own. Eschewing the standards to concentrate entirely on his own material is a risky proposition at times, but it clearly paid off for Maxwell and his band, as the material is so strong and the hard work they have put into playing together was apparent during this performance. It was also a pleasure to hear Maxwell reach back into his songbook to resurrect some of his excellent older compositions, including "Sister Red" and the haunting "The Sixth." Maxwell is a player and composer deserving of wider recognition and hopefully we will see him more often at the Showcase and other downtown venues.
Marshall Vente is not only a strong pianist, bandleader (of several bands) and composer in his own right, but he is also the longtime host of the popular Jazz Tropicale radio show on WDCB, so it was no surprise that he offered up the brand of tropical-flavored jazz that he is known for during his quartet's fine late night set. Vente's quartet members have played together since the '70s and '80s, and Vente half-jokingly suggested that it had taken them 20 years to learn how to play some of the songs the right way. Whatever the case, it was apparent that guitarist Glen Reitsma, bassist Scott Mason and solid drummer Isidro "Izzy" Perez were firing on a cylinders on these tunes. Vente's first set included several tracks from his latest Marshall Arts recording, includng his spicy Latin "Black Circle," "Brazilian Folk Song," the beautiful "Bill Evans Tune for RA," "Endless Intensity" and "Centering." These original tunes were joined by three covers - a trio of "dolphin" songs, including "Dolphin Dance," "Green Dolphin Street" (a unique version that shifted keys and times signatures form 6/8 to 4/4 and back) and Brazilian pianist Luiz Eca's "The Dolphin." On the latter track, guitarist Reitsma shifted from electric guitar to nylon string on what was a true highlight. Throughout the evening, Vente's smooth and assured piano work was complemented nicely by his guitarist's fiery solos, while bassist Scott Mason (working on electric bass due to an accident to his usual acoustic bass) also showed a deft touch and technique, while fearlessly mixing it up with the other soloists. It would be cliched to say Vente brought a little tropical sunshine into Chicago's chilly gray winter Sunday night, but then again, it wouldn't be wrong.