By AARON COHEN
When drummer Mike Reed spoke at the Logan Center on Saturday about his new “The City Was Yellow: The Chicago Suite,” he encapsulated the Hyde Park Jazz Festival’s essential spirit. Reed’s recent work represents 30 years of the city’s jazz compositions and he said his goal was to share stories about people and places rather than delve into a singular musical style. The entire day showed how his words resonated throughout the event.
Now in its 12th year, the festival presents an invaluable mix of locally based musicians and national stars. Spread throughout Hyde Park, most of the free Saturday concerts were held on or near the University of Chicago campus. The audiences that lined the Midway and filled the Logan Center’s venues also reflected the diversity among the artists on its dozen stages.
Reed’s concert that night at the Logan Center’s performance hall exemplified the vitality of shared traditions. His septet pulled out nuances in compositions that were written between 1980 and 2010 – works that remain valuable, if still unheralded. These pieces ranged from Jason Adasiewicz’s lullaby, “Rose Garden,” to Rich Corpolongo’s experimental “Tone Row.” Equally crucial was that most of his ensemble featured sharp musicians who are just emerging now, such as vibrant saxophonist Rajiv Halim and trombonist Chris Shuttleworth.
Earlier in that room, Chicago pianist Ryan Cohan presented his moving “Originations.” Partially autobiographical, the piece embraces ideas from across the Middle East and North Africa with Eastern European Jewish themes. He also blended his six-piece jazz group with the Kaia String Quartet. The array of influences and textures flowed together in lyrical and surprising ways, particularly Cohan’s serene dialogue with cellist Hope Shepherd Decelle.
Pianist Kris Davis, who performed solo at Logan’s penthouse, conveyed an orchestral scope on her own. Some of her deeper explorations echoed the late Cecil Taylor, whom she spoke about at the opening of her set. This included adding resonance to single notes through plucking the piano’s strings and turning bracing dissonances into simultaneous lead and counter melodies.
While Davis emphasized the piano’s percussive qualities, Allison Miller brought out the melodic range of the drums with her group, Boom Tic Boom. Throughout her band’s set on the Midway’s Wagner stage, Miller’s shifting tones directed violinist Jenny Scheinman’s lines while holding onto a dance groove that recalled New Orleans second line parades.
Saturday night concluded with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane’s performance at Rockefeller Chapel. With commanding statements that seemed to respond to the majestic room, he delivered a tribute to his mother, with harpist Brandee Younger filling Alice Coltrane’s role. Their exchange was weighty and intricate while conveying warmth that never delved into easy sentimentality. All of which fit with a festival geared toward binding a community.
Fewer artists performed on a comparatively low-key Sunday, but a couple homages to Chicago legends reinforced how the festival carries traditions forward. Vocalist Dee Alexander honored soul, folk and jazz singer-songwriter Terry Callier at the Wagner Stage with extroverted flights that ended with a spirited spoken word take on his “Lazarus Man.” Pianist Jason Moran’s solo set at the Logan’s performance hall celebrated his mentors Muhal Richard Abrams and Willie Pickens, displaying how they taught him to thrive in his instrument’s highest and lowest registers. Moran also spoke about how much they inspired him as a teacher, words were not lost on the numerous students in the room.