Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Black and Brown Punk Show/Various venues

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Live Reviews, Punk No Comments »
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Moor Mother Goddess

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Back in 2013 I first wrote about the Black and Brown Punk Show; sadly my comments about Chicago’s diverse but largely segregated rock music scene pretty much still stand two years later. But I want to call attention to this year’s festival as it’s an overlooked gem of an event that our city has the honor of hosting annually.

Over two days, twenty-plus punk acts come to the city in an all-ages celebration of Chicago’s multiracial, DIY punk scene that is also a safe space for queer and trans folks of color. Read the rest of this entry »

Listening Party Review: Mick Jenkins’ “Wave[s]”

Hip-Hop, Rap, Record Reviews, Uncategorized No Comments »

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Chicago’s Mick Jenkins put on quite a show on a recent Friday night, but he didn’t rap a single verse. Instead, the Music Room at Soho House hosted a listening party with Jenkins and St. Louis painter Hayveyah McGowan, where they described the creative process behind Jenkins’ newest project, “Wave[s]” (release date August 21). With guidance from Fake Shore Drive’s Andrew Barber, Jenkins and McGowan delineated how their collaboration originated.

After spending a year and a half on his previous release,“The Waters,” Jenkins didn’t feel like the concept project got enough traction from the public—despite its critical acclaim. So he put together this newest project more as a collection of compositions than a record with an “end-to-end” theme, and did so in a matter of months. But he still wanted a consistent artistic through-line, and Jenkins commissioned McGowan to create a large-scale painting inspired by each of the tracks, all of which were on exhibit at Soho House. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Grant Park’s Carlos Kalmar Craves the New, Whether in Music or in Life

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Carlos and Raffaela Kalmar with newborn son Luca Pedro/Photo courtesy of Carlos Kalmar

Carlos and Raffaela Kalmar with newborn son Luca Pedro. Photo Courtesy of Carlos Kalmar

By Dennis Polkow

“He’s such a joy,” says proud father Carlos Kalmar of his son Luca Pedro, who was born on the last day of 2014. “It’s really great, I’m very happy. I don’t know if having a newborn makes you a bit more soft, that is for others to say. But it adds a component to life in general that is somehow reflected in your work when the occasion is given. In music, sometimes the depth of what we do may get even deeper. But who am I to judge?”

Kalmar has two children from a previous marriage and even a grandson. “I have started over,” he laughs. “I have two daughters who are twenty-seven and twenty-five. When you’re older, or to some extent older, I think the influence of children on you is amazing. I’m not talking about grandchildren, they are fantastic: I have one, but I don’t see him very often because he lives in Europe. But to have a child of your own when you’re older changes some things. And it’s all for the better.”

Renewal remains a virtual archetype for Kalmar, who thrives on new challenges and on learning, performing and introducing audiences to new pieces. For the closing weekend of the Grant Park Music Festival, for instance, Kalmar will conduct the Grant Park Orchestra and Chorus with guest vocal soloists in a rare complete performance of Elgar’s oratorio “The Kingdom.” Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: From Desert Blues to Peruvian Psychedelia

Festivals, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »
Tinariwen

Tinariwen

By Gail Dee

Tinariwen, an ensemble from the Sarahan desert of Mali (coming to Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, August 26, 8pm, $38/$36 members), is the Tuareg band upon which we measure all the rest, because it’s desert blues at its finest. The group’s first performance in Chicago was in 2004 at the Chicago Cultural Center and they have been back several times. (One unforgettable night in 2011, after growling unhappily at Metro’s staff for putting me in second-floor handicapped seating far from the stage because I was on a crutch, I serendipitously ended up dancing with the Tuareg ladies who were part of the tour—the stage door opens upstairs to a reserved seating area!) Their style of music is considered to be the roots of the American blues; it’s trance-inducing, and as expansive as the desert, with band members trading electric-guitar riffs like heat shimmering on the horizon. The simple rhythms are reminiscent of camels walking in the sand for hundreds of miles. Lyrics speak of sadness and rebellion, as these nomadic people have endured civil unrest and war in their homeland for many years. However, the same night I was happily grooving on a crutch with the lovely ladies in long robes, my companion—a jazz drummer—was critical of what he called repetitive rhythm and thought the graceful, languorous movement of the dancers wasn’t much. I reminded him of the Saharan heat and said I didn’t think it would be the place for break-dancing. Personally I’ve never been disappointed by Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen in Time: Scott Hesse Trio Brings Stirring “Stillness” to Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, Record Reviews No Comments »

The Trio, 5-13-15

By Corey Hall

Envision the Aqua Tower, 225 North Columbus Drive, on its side in black and white. This image could be in motion but is actually frozen in time with a watery, wave-like feel, as created through photographer Scott Hesse’s lens. This image—complete with color and complementary crop by a graphic designer–is the cover art for Hesse’s trio’s new album, “The Stillness of Motion,” whose CD release party is on August 14 at Constellation.

Hesse, a Chicago-based jazz guitarist who has performed with Greg Ward, Dee Alexander and Ernest Dawkins, among many others, believes that recording music is similar to documenting life through photography. “This music is very fluid and always changing, but when you capture it on a recording, it freezes moments in time, like what happens in a picture,” says Hesse, who is joined on the album by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Makaya McCraven. “You can definitely hear the movement and evolutions taking place… but it’s never going to be that way again.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Music Legends: Kurt Elling

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

This is the first in a series of profiles of Chicagoans who have enriched both the city’s and the country’s musical life. Succeeding entries will appear on an irregular basis.

Every baritone jazz singer has to stand comparison to Frank Sinatra, whose shadow looms over them so unremittingly, you want to take pity and just equip them all with miners’ helmets. And it’s true that in terms of sheer tonal beauty, Kurt Elling—the bari-jazzman of the moment—doesn’t quite match his famous forebear. Elling’s wiry, scrappy, middleweight-boxer of a voice, marked (or marred, depending on your point of view) by the occasional flatness of Chicago vowel sounds (he was born here in 1967), is an entirely different animal from Sinatra’s opulent, resonant, cello-like instrument. Sinatra’s voice is all roundness and legato; Elling’s, at its most characteristic, is serrated and staccato.

And yet the way in which Elling doesn’t quite measure up to Sinatra pales into insignificance next to the many ways in which he surpasses him. Elling’s range is an astonishing four octaves, double that of Sinatra’s, and his boundless facility for improvising is so far beyond anything Sinatra ever exhibited, there aren’t even analogous samples to set side by side for comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Cuban Artists Take Chicago

Afro-Cuban, Festivals, Latin, World Music No Comments »
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Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

By Gail Dee

Chicago’s music scene will make history as the stars align serendipitously to bring two of Cuba’s most famous musical acts in the same week: the legendary dance band Los Van Van and the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club for its Adios Tour—not to mention the almost immediately following Festival Cubano.

Given the recent thaw in Cuban American political relations, people might soon forget the anticipatory thrill of being able to see authentic Cuban music live in the United States. Not so long ago, it was forbidden fruit. Club owners like Marguerite Horberg of HotHouse and Ray Quinn of Martyrs’ took chances bringing the music to us. Shows were picketed and frequently shut down amidst threats, protests and boycotts against the Cuban government by Cuban Americans. I remember the joy of listening to the lovely, romantic, traditional Cuban music called son montuno in 1997, when the “Buena Vista Social Club” album was released, and the excitement of seeing them all live on stage for the first time at the Chicago Theater. Cuban son (a style of music that combines the singing and guitar stylings of Spain with the rhythms and drumming of Africa) and other music by the Buena Vistans wasn’t actually popular in Cuba at the time—the songs represented the golden age of Cuba in the forties and fifties; still, for millions of English-speaking people the Spanish lyrics of “Candela” and “Chan Chan” became almost as recognizable as “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” The remaining handful of original members coming to Ravinia are now touring together for the final time. Read the rest of this entry »

Lolla Day 3: Riders On the Storm

Alt-Rock, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop, Rap, Rock, Uncategorized No Comments »
Photo: Brian Hieggelke

Photo: Brian Hieggelke

By Craig Bechtel

Festivalgoers receive their tickets and passes with the caveat that the shows will go on “rain or shine.” But there’s always the caveat that if high winds and lightning pop up on the radar, all bets are off, and attendees of Lollapalooza Day 3 had to wrestle with the forces of Mother Nature, not once, but twice.

Sunday started hot and humid, and skies were sunny as Australian trio DMA’s treated those in attendance at the Pepsi stage to their jangly, echoey guitar pop. DMA’s are clearly inspired by the mid-nineties Britpop tradition, à la Oasis, Blur, Happy Mondays, etc., who themselves were born of NME C86 influences like The Mighty Lemon Drops, The Shop Assistants and The Wedding Present. Whether this was apparent to the crowds enjoying their set at the Pepsi stage was unclear—they may have been there based on the strength of the band’s “Laced” single, which has garnered some airplay on local AOR radio station WXRT, was a song of the week for KEXP and garnered a review in Entertainment Weekly last fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Sunday at Lolla: Hometown Heroes and Wild Weather

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Festivals, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
TwinPeaks

Twin Peaks

By Robert Rodi

Sunday afternoon I had my first concentrated dose of Twin Peaks. I’m not generally drawn to this kind of act—you reach a certain age, you find your appetite for brash young guitar bands has been satiated almost to the point of aversion—but I love a local success story, and these Chicago natives have had an amazing year since they slashed their way to stardom at Pitchfork last year. Their album “Wild Onion” became both a critical and commercial success, launching them on an extensive national tour, and now they’d returned home in triumph to play Lollapalooza.

It was easy to see they were stoked. Almost from the moment they took the stage, they were hurling themselves around like sock puppets. I’ve heard enough of “Wild Onion” to know that there are some wryly rueful and even mildly cerebral tunes in their repertoire, but for their Lolla set it was pretty much power-chord overload. Their fans—who were many—seemed to love it, and the guys fed on that energy so that their performance rapidly went from propulsive to convulsive. Seriously, there was so much thrashing and pounding and leaping around, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn the entire Sprint stage had shifted a few inches during their set. Read the rest of this entry »

Lolla Day Two: Pedal to the Metal

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Metal, Punk, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Brian Hieggelke

Mick Jenkins/Photo: Brian Hieggelke

By Craig Bechtel

One of the few hip-hop acts on the Lollapalooza bill this year, and the only one from Chicago, Mick Jenkins led the audience in a repeated chant to “drink more water,” dovetailing off the musical project he released last year entitled “The Water[s]”—which he told the rapt crowd (who mostly seemed to know the words) is a metaphor for truth. His verbal flow was just as fluid as water, and to Jenkins’ credit, his four-piece ensemble included a live, jazz-influenced drummer, along with the de rigueur backing man and DJ. But the proof was in the performance—as Jenkins put it at the end of one number, “all of this shit is perception.” Perception being what it is, he concluded his set with a reference to N.W.A.’s “Fuck Tha Police,” a pointed reference to the ongoing national controversies prompted by allegations of police brutality against African-Americans. The point was not lost on anyone. (A few hours later rapper Travis Scott would attempt to make a similar point at the beginning of his set on the Perry’s stage by telling the crowd to climb over the security barriers and rush the stage, shouting “We want rage!” According to published reports, the plug was pulled on his performance only five minutes in, and he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct.) Read the rest of this entry »