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Chico Freeman Quartet: Von Freeman’s 75th Birthday Celebration

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Known affectionately around Chicago jazz circles as “Vonski,” tenor man Von Freeman has long been the quintessential stay-at-home jazz master. This country is filled with superior jazz musicians who take comfort in home turf and don’t long for the gritty jazzman’s life of New York City. Consequently they are often shut out of many golden opportunities: major record label affiliation, the world touring circuit, the jazz prints, etc. If you know Von Freeman, he could care less. His Chicago homestead has afforded him the opportunity of influencing the artistic lives of numerous Chicago jazz musicians, most notably his very able saxophonist-son Chico.

On this joyous occasion, a celebration of Von’s 75th birthday recorded at the Blue Note in New York, it is ostensibly Chico’s gig with dad special guesting, though this subsequent recording is billed otherwise by Half Note, the Blue Note’s new caught-live record label. Celebrants include pianist George Cables, bassist Santi DeBriano, and drummer Gene Jackson, as cameo guest vocalist Dianne Reeves joyously introduces on a short “Tenor Madness.”

Elsewhere the songbird lays down a healthy dose of come hither blues chops on “Comes Love.” And the pots were cookin’ on this evening as Chico demonstrates, arriving on fire, inspired by his father’s typical take-no-prisoners presence on the opening “Softly as in a Morning Sunrise,” Von shouting encouragement in the background. The energy crackles no matter who steps up to the plate, whether it’s Von with his unusual and vinegary tenor sound or the emboldened Chico. This is what “live” dates are all about, exhibiting why jazz remains such a “living” art form.