Widely regarded as today's leading proponent of the energy or ecstatic school of jazz (which stems from the '60s free jazz of Albert Ayler and John Coltrane), tenor saxman Ware claims roots steeped in the full jazz tradition. His influences range from post-bop stylist Sonny Rollins to avant-garde guru Cecil Taylor, with whom he often shared the bandstand in the late 1970s. A favorite among broad-minded altrockers, the Ware Quartet (Aug. 14) stirs up a locomotive intensity that's ripe for headbanging (done politely from one's seat in the concert-hall setting). The group is also one of the more supple on the scene, due to the shift-on-a-dime sensitivity of renowned bandmates Matthew Shipp (piano), William Parker (bass), and Guillermo Brown (drums). The formidable foursome plans to debut new compositions from its forthcoming album, Corridors & Parallels. Needless to say, this gig is not to be missed.
Creative-jazz fans should also schedule time for 8 Bold Souls (Aug. 15), a cult favorite led by multi-instrumentalist/ composer Ed Wilkerson Jr. (an original member of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble). Though the group has released a handful of critically acclaimed albums and toured periodically since 1987, it's little known outside of the Windy City. This may be due to a one-of-a-kind, uncompromising sound. With a broad instrumental palette to draw from -- multiple saxes, clarinets, trumpet, trombone, tuba, cello, bass, drums, and percussion -- the music moves smoothly from dance-ready New Orleans-inspired riffage to mood-rich tone poems with lots of space, always-lyrical improvs, and sophisticated harmonic structures. The compositions are elegant, surprising, and driven by a sublime earthiness.
An overview of the other fine acts appearing in this year's festival includes the Steel Quartet (Aug. 16) led by World Saxophone Quartet co-founder Oliver Lake, an ultramelodic, groovy-fun combo of alto sax, bass, drums, and steel drums, which will likely appeal to both mainstream and eclectic jazz aficionados; and the Asian American Orchestra (Aug. 13), a distinguished local big band that augments a traditional swing concept with contemporary arrangements, mighty soloists (Francis Wong, Hafez Modirzadeh), and Chinese instruments (hammered dulcimer, mouth organ, erhu).