Contemporary jazz is so closely linked with improvisational technique that the idea of studying to play it seems paradoxical. But if the method of improvisation is founded upon knowing a melody well enough to twist it into one’s own, then the more melodies one knows, the easier it will be to improvise. Hence the academic validity of its pursuit. Unique to jazz are the number of academics that are also gigging musicians. From Chicago, players have done it for generations. Many years divide Anthony Braxton and Nicole Mitchell, for instance, but both of their tremendous talents and tenures at university come to mind. Filling that niche at the moment is Nick Mazzarella. What’s distinctive about Mazzarella’s context is not his kinship with study and performance, it’s that he’s missing a signature recording. To hear him play saxophone is to bear witness to an exquisite young talent. While it’s clear that he’s still sharpening his voice, hoping for the perfect occasion to express something substantial, it seems like this show may finally be his chance. Solo performances are part of a grand tradition that afford proper attention to a particular player. The hallmark of the form in contemporary jazz is Braxton’s “For Alto,” a piece of unimaginable power and beauty. Corbett is known to record and release performances from the space where Mazzarella will be playing. The gallery has a gentle and encouraging aura to it, and it’s conveniently located a few floors above local treasure Dusty Groove. Beyond the possibility that you could be present at a potentially legendary performance, the kind Mazzarella’s talent certainly suggests he’s capable of, it’s simply powerful to witness the birth of something spontaneous. And that’s precisely what this moment may be, a wonderful opportunity for Mazzarella to present himself in the most satisfying light possible. (Kenneth Preski)
August 17 at Corbett vs. Dempsey, 1120 North Ashland, 3rd Floor, (773)278-1664. 4pm. Free.