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Live Review: Red Bull Music Presents Round Robin in Chicago

Roscoe Mitchell, Jeff Parker, and Makaya McCraven were among 16 musicians who participated in an unusual chain performance

Roscoe Mitchell at Thalia Hall, Chicago, Aug. 30, 2018
Roscoe Mitchell at Thalia Hall, Chicago, Aug. 30, 2018 (photo: © Zoe Rain/Red Bull Content Pool)

Apparently, it was a total coincidence that Red Bull Music scheduled its Chicago “round robin” improvisation during the Chicago Jazz Festival. Perhaps also by coincidence, none of the 16 musicians participating at Thalia Hall on Aug. 30 were headliners at the festival in Millennium Park—although each of them, capped by the legendary saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, was prominent enough in Chicago to combine into a murderer’s row in the opulent South Side theater. Then again, that kind of serendipity is at the heart of jazz. Who’s to complain?

Though the event was called a “round robin” improvisation, it didn’t adhere to the traditional round-robin definition, where every participant interacts with or competes against every other. It was more like an improv chain. One musician took the stage alone, improvising solo for five minutes, at which point a second musician joined in to make an improvised duet for another five minutes. At that point, the first musician exited at the same time that a third musician entered to join the second, and so on. The program at Thalia Hall included a list of the participants, but not the order in which they would appear.

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