It's been a long time since the formation of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), which unveiled its own Windy City vision of avant-garde jazz in the '60s. And after all these years, many listeners still have a hard time comprehending AACM explorers like Anthony Braxton, Roscoe Mitchell, and Muhal Richard Abrams. Regardless, the organization continues to enjoy a small but enthusiastic underground following, and Chicago remains a hotbed of avant-garde jazz in the 21st century. Chi-Town was where Jeff Chan recorded this 2002 session, which finds the saxophonist forming a piano-less acoustic quartet with trumpeter Ameen Muhammad, bassist Tatsu Aoki, and drummer Chad Taylor. Some AACM sessions have been totally outside, and some have favored an inside/outside approach; In Chicago generally falls into the latter category. While Chan's compositions are abstract, they also have discernible melodies -- and even though the playing is quite free, this isn't an album of atonal chaos. In Chicago is typical of the AACM mindset in that Chan and his colleagues use space effectively; their abstraction tends to be reflective and contemplative rather than dense, crowded, and confrontational (three words that typically describe the harsher sort of free jazz one associates with a firebrand like Charles Gayle). Chan (whose work has also been influenced by Ornette Coleman's harmelodics) and Muhammad play a lot of notes at times, but they pace themselves instead of firing all their shots immediately; again, it's all about space on an AACM-style recording like In Chicago. Sadly, Muhammad had only six months to live when this CD was recorded; the trumpeter died on February 28, 2003. And even though Chan and Muhammad didn't have a long history of playing together, they clearly enjoy a strong rapport on this solid, memorable example of AACM-minded jazz.
AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson