Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Much to appreciate on new album by Chicago-based Chris Greene Quartet


Those who don't already appreciate the music of Chicago-based The Chris Greene Quartet will find even more to appreciate on the group's latest album, "Music Appreciation."

The group shows off its formidable chops on the album. To celebrate the release of "Music Appreciation," The Chris Greene Quartet,, will perform March 8 at Green Mill Jazz Club, 4802 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and there is a $12 cover charge. More information is at

I had the chance to talk to Greene about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you again. Of course, your new album, "Music Appreciation," is being released this week. In sitting down to record the album, what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? How do you think it compares to your past efforts?

Our goals for recording a new album never start out too lofty. We’d added 13 new songs to our repertoire since “A Group Effort” - our previous CD - that hadn’t yet been recorded. 

We’d just come off of a two-month weekly residency at Andy’s Jazz Club. We’d also done several weekend stints at Pete Millers’ in Evanston (our home base of sorts) and other supportive venues in the northern and western suburbs.

I always look forward to making music with my guys, but the new material was starting to take shape in really cool ways that I couldn’t have anticipated. And the responses from audiences were getting more and more enthusiastic. 

I booked three days of studio time at Uptown Recording. Our producer and engineer (Joe Tortorici and Rob Ruccia, respectively) came up with some creative ways to capture the band’s sound and vibe in a studio setting. Because we’d been playing together so much, most of the songs on the new album are first or second takes. 

We finished recording all 13 songs in a day and a half.

“A Group Effort” was a live album, so it gave people a chance to hear what our live show is like. “Music Appreciation” hopefully serves to show the listener the breadth and range of all the styles of music we like and…appreciate.

Q - The album features both originals and interpretations of other people's songs. How did you go about choosing those songs to interpret and what did you want to do with them?

That’s simple: we play the songs that we like. The John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Charles Mingus covers on the album are pretty self-explanatory; we’re students of jazz history and we dig playing standards, but it’s important to us put a distinctive stamp on those songs.

So we’ll make changes in the feel, style or meter of the song. If it’s musically interesting for us, I believe we can make it interesting for any audience.

So, for instance - we turned Coltrane’s “Equinox” from a modal tune into a dub reggae song. And we turned the Mingus song into something resembling a 1940s slow grind, rhythm-and-blues song.

It’s also important to me to pick songs for the band that are already quirky, distinctive and challenging. I’ve been an admirer of (Chicago keyboardist, vocalist, bandleader) William Kurk’s music for about 7 years now. I love his writing. I knew I wanted to include a song of his in our repertoire. So his “Day of Honor” seemed like the perfect tune for CGQ. Same thing with (Brazilian composer and singer) Ed Motta. He writes stuff that is both challenging and soulful. His tune “Papuera” (in 5/8 time) seemed like a natural fit for us.

Q - How did growing up in Evanston shape your musical background? How do you think your approach to making music has changed over the years?

Evanston is one of the most racially, culturally, and economically diverse suburbs that I can think of. I grew up around all types of people, and as a result, I got exposed to many different types of music. 

I started playing saxophone at 10 years old, and I started playing in my junior high school jazz band two years later, but I didn’t get super serious about learning how to improvise until my junior year of high school. I was a Prince fan and 80s hip-hop fanatic up to that point. 

I don’t think my approach to making music has changed that much over the years: I inundate myself with (hopefully) good music from other people and then I’ll practice my horn and write. Hopefully some good music will come out of me in the process.

Q - Since your music roams through a number of musical genres, do you consider yourself strictly a jazz musician? What is your definition of jazz?

For lack of a better term, I am a jazz musician, and CGQ is a jazz band. But I’m constantly on the lookout for good music - of any style or genre - that’s going to make me better at my craft. 

As a collective, we’re reasonably versed in most aspects of jazz history and technique from Louis Armstrong to the present. At the same time, it isn’t 1945 or 1959 or 1970, so there’s a lot of other music that each of us have dealt with individually before we decided to become jazz musicians - hip-hop, classical, funk, rock, R&B, gospel, etc. 

It’s all part of our makeup as artists, so to me it’s all valid if it’s done with nuance and integrity. As far as my definition of jazz goes, I’m with Kurt Elling when he says, “Jazz is like porn; I know it when I see it.”

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene as opposed to music scenes in other parts of the country? How do you see yourself fitting into the scene?

I’ve always played mainly around Chicago musicians, so I can’t speak on music scenes in other cities. However, I can say our scene is a little more fragmented than it was in the mid to late 90s.

The rock guys are over here and the jazz guys…well…the fusion guys are in one place, the creative/free guys are in another, the mainstream traditionalists are in another, and the smooth guys are in another. 

I’m sure I sound like an old man, but there seemed to be a lot more cross-pollination and experimentation back then. As far as CGQ fitting into the local scene goes - I like the fact that on any given night, our audience can consist of jazz aficionados and people who just want to have a good time. 

Is it our legacy to bring all those people together? Time will tell.

Q - You are a musician that has always been in demand and most recently appeared on Shawn Maxwell's new CD/project, "Shawn Maxwell's Alliance." And you have worked with the likes of Common and The Temptations. Why do you think so many musicians have sought you out and what have you learned from your experiences?

I have no clue. I’m humbled and flattered when anyone hires me to do anything.

This town is overrun with great saxophone players. That said, I’d like to think versatility, stylistic range, a good sound, and a strong work ethic play a part in any band leader’s decision to collaborate with me. 

I learn something from every musical situation I’ve ever been in. From the pop and soul people you mentioned, I’ve learned the value of entertaining people with a kick ass show. 

And Shawn Maxwell has the most integrity of any musician I’ve met. He plays his music on his own terms and makes no apologies for it. That’s the kind of musician I like to be around. 

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Right now, I’m happy to be working with my band as often as I do. But I’m always down to rock a stage with anyone making good and honest music from the heart. 

Local, regional national, international - I don’t care.

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