Chicago has a problem: Too many of our talented musicians go elsewhere. To name just a few, Nicole Mitchell, Tomika Reid, Mary Halverson, Justin Thomas (Justefan), and Marquis Hill have all relocated. A year or so ago, jazz trumpeter Corey Wilkes also seemed to disappear. Until then, he was a visible force on the scene.
Last night, Wilkes came from his new home in Los Angles to headline the annual benefit for the Hyde Park Jazz Festival at the Logan Center. With Wilkes were bassist extraordinaire, Junius Paul, pianist and Miles Davis alum, Robert Irving III, Paris-born drummer Makaya McCraven, AACM-member Kahil El'Zabar on a percussive board that produced sounds similar to congas, and singer Meagan McNeal, with her richly abstract voice. It was quite an evening of jazz.
Wilkes has always been a terrific trumpet player, but with the passage of time, his efforts have become more subtle and nuanced. There are still the flourishes, but Wilkes is relying more on muted, elgonated notes these days. He occasionally stirs in a little contemporary hip-hop aesthetic to the mix. One thing hasn't changed: Wilkes lacks Sitzfleisch. Or more colloquially, he has ants in his pants while on stage. He is in front of the mike, in back of the piano, talking with the bass player, walking off to the side, moving the monitors, tapping on the computer, drinking water, and walking around while shaking his trumpet.
Wilkes did opt for a pretty straight-forward selection of tunes: So What, Nature Boy, A Love Supreme, and a number of other modern jazz standards. So What was an appropriate opener, echoing and hopefully lampooning Melania Trump's fashion statement earlier in the day--wearing Zara jacket with the phrase "I Really Don't Care. Do U?," splashed across the back, when she visited migrant/refugee children held hostage by the Trump Administration.
Maybe he opted for standards because the assembled musicians don't regularly play together. That's speculation on my part, and certainly not true in the case of Junius Paul, who has been working with Wilkes for years. In any event, I certainly didn't sense that these folks were new to each other; although when Wilkes announced he was going to introduce the band, all six players started shaking hands and hugging each other. An old musician's joke, one that may have originated with Dizzy Gillespie, which is appropriate.
The set lasted well over 90 minutes. For my money, it was over all too fast. I would love to see a little bit more of Wilkes in Chicago.
The good news: The festival raised somewhere around $20,000.
Corey Wilkes in a Muted Mood
In the Light
Makaya McCraven in a Transcendental State
Kahil El'Zabar Pulls Out All the Stops
Left Arm Up
Junius Paul Supporting Old Friend and Colleague Corey Wilkes with Some Subtle Bass Lines
Junius Paul and Kahil El'Zabar Intently Listen to Robert Irving III
Makaya McCraven and Megan McNeal at the Close of the Set
Standing Tall with Trumpet in Hand
Three Microphones and a Trumpet
Photographer's Notes: I regret that a photograph of pianist Robert Irving III is not included among this batch, but there isn't much I could do. His back was facing the audience. From the far side of the stage, there were three microphones, a table, and a bottle of water blocking my line of sight to the piano. It is too bad, because Irving has charisma. Maybe next time.