Chicago Tribune Review
Posted: 12-15-2009 by Howard Reich - Arts Critic

"One of the hippest places in Chicago to spend a Sunday night"
It has to be one of the hippest places in Chicago to spend a Sunday night.

Outside, valets are hustling to park cars as they steadily queue up on East 43rd Street. Inside, the crowd looks loose, Chicagoans of every race huddled around cafe tables, everyone sipping, smiling, listening.

And at the front of the room, a band of brilliant young Chicago musicians unleashes considerable firepower, bringing innovative jazz improvisation to a standing-room-only house.

Welcome to Room 43, where a remarkable Sunday-night scene has been developing for the past few months.

Nevermind that many Chicagoans already have tucked the kids into bed and are preparing for the workweek ahead. For the jazz devotees who pour into Room 43, there's serious listening ahead.

"Jazz is so totally alive -- just look around and listen," says state Rep. Al Riley (D- Hazel Crest), between sets by the hard-charging Kevin Nabors Quintet. "These guys are so technically excellent."

Adds Chicago guitarist Bobby Broom, who just dropped in, "It's a beautiful sight, what's happening here."

It's not difficult to understand why music is flourishing at Room 43, on an otherwise quiet corner of the South Side of Chicago.

For starters, the room glitters like a jewel box, its exposed brick walls lit by delicate, ambient lighting. Jazz rooms don't always exude such elegance.

More important, the Sunday night series is presented and programmed by the Hyde Park Jazz Society, which nurtures jazz across the South Side (most notably at the great Hyde Park Jazz Festival). Thus Sunday nights at Room 43 lean toward first-rate Chicago artists.

But Room 43 emerges as a jazz club only on Sundays. The rest of the week, it hosts private parties and other events.

The jazz transformation began in June, when the Hyde Park Jazz Society lost its slot at the Checkerboard Lounge on South Harper Avenue. Norman Bolden, who owns Room 43, was eager to try jazz.

"I've always envisioned having a jazz club, but not having the connections with the bands and the talent, I figured that vision probably never would happen," Bolden says.

"Then this kind of dropped in my lap. Actually, it was supposed to be a one-night event, but it just kept going."

On this night, saxophonist Nabors is turning in propulsive work, leading a band of like-minded young iconoclasts. Sharing front-line duties with trumpeter Corey Wilkes, Nabors plays soprano saxophone with relentless energy in Freddie Hubbard's "The Core," while Wilkes unfurls sleek blues phrases. In Charles Mingus' "Nostalgia in Times Square," bassist Junius Paul fires off solos fast and hard. And elsewhere in the set, guitarist Scott Hesse sculpts high-flying lines, while drummer Isaiah Spencer sets off torrents of sound.

As midnight approaches the band winds down, but the crowd lingers, the regulars saying farewell to each other -- until next week.

Sundays at Room 43, 1043 E. 43rd St.; $10; valet parking available; 773-285-2222 or
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