Photo: Flint Chaney
By Dave Cantor
ONO’s singer says he doesn’t listen to its recordings. It’d make him too nervous. Sometimes, travis says, it’s hard enough just to record. It could be because what travis has written clearly comes from contemplation of his military experience; a track called “Army” finds inclusion on the band’s “Diegesis,” set to be released by Moniker Records. And while he says performance was a part of his childhood, taking the stage in church and at school, the whole thing’s still a trial.
“There’re all of these people doing sound and noise that are there, and that’s been the case ever since I started playing in Cleveland,” he says of performing music, as opposed to the poetry he started on in that Midwestern city during the late 1960s. “I think there are a lot of facets to my personality—in Mississippi that’s called character…There is some self-hatred that I have and when I’m on stage; there are all these other facets I can overlay.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Peter Beste
By Kenneth Preski
Gang violence, murder, robbery, drug dealing, prostitution: all fodder for Freddie Gibbs on “Thuggin’,” the first single released from his collaboration with Madlib, the world’s greatest beatsmith. The gangsta rapper even goes as far as selling crack to one of his family members to avoid having her go up the street to turn a trick for it. Welcome to Gary, Indiana through the eyes of Gangsta Gibbs, a man who puts the rap in rap sheet. It has to be bullshit, right? Some over-the-top braggadocio to pull one over on record buyers. No one could come through that much trauma unscathed. Given the genre’s many imitators, thug is a costume, and one size fits all. Not according to the man himself: “All that shit is real, man. I don’t have no persona. I don’t have no rap persona. Everything is real and authentic. If I’m talking about it, then I saw it.” Given the criminality of his lyrical content, that’s a chilling confession. Gibbs’ memory is mined for source material during the entirety of “Piñata,” a release which is not just one of the best hip-hop records this year, but one of the best, period. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Fredrik Etoall
Electronic DJ duo Icona Pop make tracks that sound exactly the way pop music of today should. Run, leap and tumble beats soar through starry, energetic electro-synth melodies, and land on their feet in the foggy midst of a humid, glitter-coated dance floor. When Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo met at a party in the suburbs of Stockholm in 2009, a connection surged almost instantly as the two discovered they shared nearly identical tastes in music. Within a few days they were writing songs and booking gigs, and in that same year the two moved to London to cut their first studio record with TEN Music Group. There, they met London’s Charli XCX who shared a song written for her by another Swede, Patrik Berger. The three women collaborated and came up with the international hit, “I Love It.” The song was released as the second single from their self-titled album in May 2012 and again as the first single off of their second album, “This Is…Icona Pop” in September 2013. As for the time in-between, the song’s commercial success flourished. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Felix Broede
A Murray Perahia recital is a wonderful and increasingly rare thing to behold. Prior to his appearance in the fall of 2012 at Symphony Center, it had been several years since the celebrated pianist—a Chicago favorite during the Solti years because of his frequent collaborations with the late Chicago Symphony music director—had played here. Perahia had agreed to substitute for an ailing Maurizio Pollini in April of 2011, but Perahia himself ended up canceling, feeling that he had not sufficiently recovered from a hand injury that had sidelined him completely from a 2010 tour that was to have included Chicago.
This time around, Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music is hosting Perahia, winner of the school’s biennial Lane Prize in Piano Performance, at its Evanston campus. One of the conditions of that prize and its $50,000 stipend is that the winner spend two to three non-consecutive weeks in residency at the Bienen School and engage in master classes, chamber music coaching and lectures. Read the rest of this entry »
On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”
The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Stefan Malzkorn
Walk up to anyone and ask them to play the word-association game: the game where you say a word and they blurt out the very first thing that comes to mind. Say the word “funky,” and more than likely their response will be “James Brown,” “Horns,” “Chicken” or “Funkadelic.” And while there really is no right or wrong answer in a game designed to observe the human thought process, a better response arguably would have been “Maceo,” the first name of the player synonymous with the head bopping sounds of his funky alto sax. Tried and true, Maceo Parker is the funkiest horn player to have risen from the dawn of funk music. He has played with both James Brown, cutting a total of twelve albums with the Godfather of Soul including “Sex Machine,” and adhered to various syndicates of the first family of funk, Parliament-Funkadelic, for a total of ten albums including “Mothership Connection.” He first joined James Brown in 1964, and from then on was an integral player in defining and fostering funk’s sound. It’s even been written that between Maceo Parker and funk music it’s hard to discern which one came before the other—a living, breathing, chicken-or-egg paradox. Read the rest of this entry »
How many bands in the world (any genre, go ahead) do you know that are name-checked in a classic pop lyric? Excluding The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there aren’t too many (no, “Moves Like Jagger” is not about the band). The odds of a jazz group being included are extremely low, but Spyro Gyra is one of the chosen few–their name is brought up in Jorge Ben’s “País Tropical,” a world music hit that many of his fans sing along to even though most might not have a clue what he is singing about.
Led by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman, Spyro Gyra has been one of the most influential groups in the jazz-fusion and world music scenes since the band’s inception in the 1980s. Spyro Gyra was also a launching pad for names like trumpeter Chris Botti (who played with them in the 1990s), percussionist Cyro Baptista and vocalist Bonny B. On their latest release “The Rhinebeck Sessions,” the group distances themselves from their recent smooth jazz direction to reach back into their funk/fusion roots, embracing straight-ahead numbers that showcase the group’s individuality. Read the rest of this entry »
By Keidra Chaney
Extreme metal’s never been a genre known for its appreciation of gentle beauty. But when critics and fans alike consistently describe an album’s listening experience as “ugly” and “torturous”–and it’s meant as a compliment–you can assume you’re in for something special. “From All Purity,” the fourth full-length release from Chicago quartet Indian, has been lauded by many as the band’s most impressive release to date, while at the same time being described as one of the more unpleasant and difficult musical offerings in recent memory. Not a small feat from a band that’s already built a reputation for their particularly snarling sound.
The six tracks on “From All Purity” radiate loathing and paranoia through a wall of feedback and power electronics punctuated by vocalist/guitarist Dylan O’Toole’s rabid screams. The pummeling opening song, “Rape,” immediately gives you an idea of the type of album you’re in for from the title alone. The eardrum-splitting penultimate track “Clarify,” is a four-minute-long rising cacophony of feedback that becomes nearly unbearable. The album is a challenging listen even for extreme music fans, but at only forty minutes long, “From All Purity” is also a lean and well-crafted musical statement.
“Unpleasant is how I describe it [too],” says guitarist Will Lindsay (formerly of Wolves in The Throne Room and Nachtmystium). Lindsay moved from the Pacific Northwest to join O’Toole, drummer Bill Bumgardner, and bassist Ron DeFries during the band’s last album, “Guiltless” (2011) and now splits songwriting and vocalist duties with O’Toole. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Lisa Alvarado
By Kenneth Preski
Joshua Abrams sits at a corner table in a Puerto Rican café. Salsa music from the speaker hanging overhead fills the Chicago restaurant, every song sung in Spanish. On playback, the background music is so good it makes me dance while I transcribe the interview. We discuss sound engineering, which ends with this insight from the musician: “I’m a believer that actual experience can only help things.” Not too many interviews with Abrams exist. He doesn’t seek out notoriety on these grounds. “I prefer when people want to speak about it,” he says. “It’s like, oh, okay, you’ve obviously listened to the music, formed opinions about it, now we can talk about it.” A primer of Abrams’ work, then.
Following a stint on bass for The Roots, Abrams relocated to Chicago from Philadelphia to study at Northwestern University. In the time that followed, he appeared on recordings with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Rob Mazurek, Joan of Arc, Roscoe Mitchell, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Fred Anderson. He was a member of both Town and Country, and Sticks and Stones. He put out an album on Delmark as Josh Abrams, explored hip-hop production under the pseudonym Reminder, and gigged around the city relentlessly, even providing “The Interrupters” film score. For the purposes of our interview, none of this interests me at all. His last three outings as bandleader, two albums with Natural Information Society, one with the Joshua Abrams Quartet, are far and away the most compelling string of local releases in years. Across from me sits an artist at a creative apex, and so I veer our conversation toward capturing insight into the method of expression. Read the rest of this entry »
The year 2010 marked when Chicago’s own footwork dance music was dubbed by the media as the music of the future. Competitive and super frenetic at 160 bpm, this juke derivative has evolved to cater specifically to the dance style itself, aiming to ignite a chemical reaction within the foot, faster than a tap dancer with a gun to his head. At the forefront, Chicago’s TEKLIFE crew has forged the way for footwork music to flourish outside the hometown and take hold of the EDM scenes in LA, London and Paris just to name a few. Among the crew them is Deejay Earl, younger in age but with the tenacity and work output of someone you’d expect to be older than twenty-three. Last year he grasped a handful of milestones: headlining LA’s Boiler Room, countless internet releases and TEKLIFE colabs including a thirty-one track album on SoundCloud, two EP releases on an American and European indie label, as well as a hike in demand from nightclubs across Europe. Read the rest of this entry »