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Clip: Von Freeman

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  • Carl Z.
    As Von Freeman proves weekly, a man s New
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 13, 2007
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      As Von Freeman proves weekly, a man's New Apartment is his castle

      By Howard Reich
      Tribune arts critic
      Published April 13, 2007

      The customers start trickling in at about 10 p.m. every Tuesday,
      greeting one another as if they've known each other for years (they
      probably have).

      Then, as the clock approaches 10:30, a remarkably youthful looking
      octogenarian steps inside, shakes hands with everyone on the
      bandstand, schmoozes with a few customers and, finally, opens his
      case, pulls out his horn and begins to blow.

      The sound -- a tart, squalling cry in the upper registers of his tenor
      sax, a big-and-bluesy song down below -- only could belong to Von
      Freeman, a Chicago jazz legend if ever there were one.

      Listeners queue up to hear the great "Vonski," as he's known to
      friends and fans, in nightclubs and concert halls around the world.
      But in Chicago, he has played the New Apartment Lounge -- on East 75th
      Street -- every Tuesday night for years. Though this city overflows
      with great jazz musicians who hold weekly gigs, nowhere does a Chicago
      artist with greater reputation perform in a less-pretentious setting
      than Freeman's engagement at the New Apartment.

      The scene evokes jazz saloons of an earlier era, when Chicago
      tenor-sax giants such as Gene Ammons, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan
      and others routinely played South Side clubs. The rooms were so
      intimate and nonchalant that patrons could get close enough to the
      music to feel it before hearing it.

      These days, most jazz venues flourish downtown or on the North Side,
      but Freeman's show at the New Apartment helps keep the South Side

      On a recent Tuesday, the club was packed by 11 p.m., with listeners
      hanging on every note that Freeman produced in a series of still
      astonishingly complex soliloquies. Whether playing ballads or blues,
      up-tempo romps or quirky originals, Freeman reaffirmed his status as
      one of jazz's great iconoclasts.

      "This is a song that only a cat 84 years old can play," Freeman told
      the crowd, before launching into a baroque, dancing-around-the-melody
      version of "As Time Goes By."

      Those who might have expected an archly romantic, steeped-in-velvet
      version reminiscent of tenorists Ben Webster or Coleman Hawkins were
      in for a surprise. For Freeman unfurled lines that quickly darted one
      way, then another, his phrases squealing, sighing and sometimes

      At the bottom of his instrument, his tone was deep and plush. In the
      middle voices and up high, however, Freeman created the keening,
      sharply penetrating sound that long has been his hallmark. Throughout,
      his intense vibrato and penchant for crafting intricately constructed
      phrases pointed to a musician who never has followed jazz convention.

      In "Softly, As In a Morning Sunrise," Freeman went even further out on
      a limb, gleefully deconstructing a tune that had its heyday in his
      youth. With each chorus, Freeman pushed into increasingly remote
      harmonic territory, his lines as jagged and unpredictable as the bebop
      language would allow.

      In the set's only ballad, Freeman played with ineffable delicacy and
      understatement, expressing a soft-spoken poetry that only could be
      savored in a room as small as this.

      As always, Michael Raynor played drums, though more crisply and
      energetically than ever. Bassist Matt Ferguson and guitarist Alejandro
      Urzagaste provided rhythmic surge -- not that Freeman needed any.

      As the first set approached its finish, many musicians in the crowd
      began opening their own instrument cases, eager to take a shot at
      improvising with the master, who invites up-and-comers to join him on

      Von Freeman Quartet

      The master is in the house

      When: 10:30 p.m. Tuesdays

      Where: New Apartment Lounge, 504 E. 75th St.

      Price: Free; 773-483-7728
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