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ARCHIVES: American music redefined at Evanston concert

(Nelson Riddle Appreciation Society “Nelson’s Notes” ARCHIVES, May 2009)

By Howard Reich | Tribune critic

April 13, 2009

What happens when three great soloists take on two landmark jazz compositions?

Listeners bask in new insights on the meaning of American music, as they did Saturday at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall in Evanston.

Any evening that features Nelson Riddle’s rarely performed “Cross Country Suite” and an improvised version of George Gershwin‘s “Rhapsody in Blue” will pique the curiosity of concertgoers. When the solo parts are being played by reedist Victor Goines, pianist Anthony Molinaro and harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy, an overflow crowd is inevitable.

Riddle’s “Cross Country Suite” would be forgotten were it not for Jeff Lindberg’s Chicago Jazz Orchestra, which revived the 1958 opus two seasons ago with the work’s original soloist, clarinetist Buddy DeFranco.

This time, Goines— Northwestern University‘s new head of jazz studies—stepped into the solo spot. His was a ruddier, more perfervid view of the “Cross Country Suite” than DeFranco’s. Not better or worse, just his own.

The vibrancy of tone Goines brought to the “Tall Timber” movement and the blues sensibility he expressed in “Gulf Coast” reaffirmed his musicianship. Levy’s plaintive harmonica passages in “The Mississippi” transcended high expectations.

With the Chicago Jazz Orchestra (plus NU students) providing a swirl of instrumental color, there was no question that Riddle had evoked a sense of 1950s Americana. Yes, some movements owed a debt to Aaron Copland, George Gershwin and Maurice Ravel, but overall the piece articulated the tempo of American rhythm and the optimism of the American spirit in vivid detail.

Victor Goines rehearsing with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra

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