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Chris Greene Quartet at Evanston SPACE
July 23 @ 7:00 PM - 10:00 PM$15.00 – $25.00
The phrase “Space is the place” has long had multiple meanings for Chris Greene. These are, of course, the immortal words of jazz visionary Sun Ra, whose expansive influence shines bright on the tenor saxophonist. Space as a musical concept figures into Greene’s uncluttered playing and arranging as well.
And SPACE is the name of the Evanston, Illinois club that is Greene’s home away from home. In fact, the Evanston native lives only five minutes away. Having it so close has been a great comfort during the stressful days of the pandemic.
“It’s a great place to play,” he says. For him, the state of the art venue is also a great place to record. Though much of “PlaySPACE 2: Play Harder,” his latest stellar effort with his longstanding quartet, was recorded there before the coronavirus struck, the high spirits and vibrancy of the performance – and the interaction with his devoted fans – speaks volumes on how important live shows are for artist and audience alike.
It will come as no surprise to fans of the super-eclectic Chris Greene Quartet, featuring pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Steve Corley, that “Play Harder” draws from a wealth of sources. This is a band shifts easily from blues and swing to funk and hip-hop to rock and reggae. Previous albums have featured tunes by Madonna, John Coltrane, Sting, Charles Mingus and lounge music maestro Martin Denny.
Chris Greene was born on August 28, 1973 in Evanston, Illinois. His parents were big music fans, but there was only a smattering of jazz in the household. His mother blasted Motown at her monthly card parties. His father played a lot of and funk, soul and disco. Young Chris absorbed all manner of pop styles watching MTV.
He didn’t know much about improvisation at first. “When I soloed it was with more nerve than skill,” he said. As a self-styled “Joe Jazz Visionary,” he had no great affinity for “older people’s music. Cannonball [Adderley] was okay, but he was no Grover Washington, Jr.” As devoted a follower of John Coltrane as he would become, he initially couldn’t stand him. “The only Coltrane album my father had was Om, which I thought was absolutely terrible, the worst thing I ever heard.”
That spacey album so turned off Greene to Trane that when someone later told him to listen to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and he saw that Coltrane was on it, he hesitated to put it on. “All I could think of was that Om guy,” he said with a laugh. Eventually, he was “blown away” by Coltrane’s playing on “My Favorite Things,” which has had a strong influence on his efforts on soprano saxophone.
Partly as a personal challenge to catch up with a mother lode of modern jazz history, Greene began concentrating on tenor saxophone. He formed New Perspective, a band that released two albums (On the Verge, 1998, and Jazz, 2004), and played in a wide assortment of jazz, soul, pop and prog-rock groups. Among the notable artists he has hooked up with over the years are Common, the Temptations, Brazilian soul star Ed Motta and Andrew Bird.
In 2005, Greene formed his quartet. Described by AllAboutJazz as “a post-bop maverick intent on shaking things up for the mainstream,” the saxophonist has been committed from the get-go to the pleasure principle. Whether the group is hugging tradition or engaging in experimentation, it radiates a deep sense of well-being.
With “Play Harder,” the Chris Greene Quartet has released nine albums, including three volumes in its live Playtime mixtape series. “I have a hard time staying in place,” Greene says. “I don’t know my place, I guess, which is why I’m always stepping outside of the so-called boundaries. With the music I like, I just can’t help thinking, what would it be like if I did this, or this?”
With his consistency over such a long stretch of time, and “Play Harder” being singled out as one of the best albums of 2022 by DownBeat Magazine, Greene has shown no signs of letting positive feedback go to his head. A people’s artist who has generously offered free downloads to fans, he knows the key to longevity is to keep doing what the album title says: Play Harder. Even in these difficult times, you can count on the Chris Greene Quartet doing just that – whenever and wherever the opportunities to do so arise.
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