Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

The Tip Sheet: Classical Music By—and For—the Good Guys

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Jazz, Vocal Music No Comments »
Photography of Progress, Process, Studio Practice Documentation

Grant Wallace Band

By Seth Boustead

Close your eyes for a moment and picture this familiar scenario: A super-villain is sitting in a high-backed chair, fiendishly stroking a kitten while he tells a momentarily incapacitated super-spy and a handful of hapless goons his current plan for world domination. What music is he listening to as he does this? That’s right, he’s listening to classical music.

Given that this is one of the enduring images we who have chosen this field have had to deal with at least since Wagner, how disappointing was it to open up the newspaper the other day and read that that arch-fucker Vladimir Putin had decided to put on an open-air classical music concert in war-torn Syria featuring his good buddy and fellow one-percenter, and also decidedly mediocre cellist, Sergei Roldugin. Read the rest of this entry »

Book Review: “The Empty Bottle” edited by John Dugan

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, News and Dish, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Prog-rock, Protopunk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Rockabilly, Shoegaze No Comments »



I didn’t have high expectations for “The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing” (especially with that grammatically awkward subtitle; yes, those are the famous call-outs emblazoned on the club’s awning, but in print they look like something translated into Mandarin and then back again). Histories of entertainment venues tend to skew either toward brain-numbing listicles or institutional hagiography. But in fact “The Empty Bottle,” edited by John Dugan, is pure delight; it’s a compendium of short tributes and memoirs by close to two dozen people who have worked, played or hung out at the club, and whose voices are wonderfully varied and engaging. Yes, there are the obligatory recollections of early dates by Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but the cumulative result is something much greater—in fact, a genuine and consistently beguiling social history. Like, if Studs Terkel had been born in 1980. Read the rest of this entry »

Con Brio: Baroque Band to Disband After “L’Arte del Violino”

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, News and Dish, Orchestral No Comments »
Garry Clarke

Garry Clarke

Nine years is a relatively long time for a period-instrument orchestra in Chicago: some twenty-five years ago, the City Musick only made it to six seasons. It’s not that we don’t have the performers and the audience for early music, but lining them up with unified artistic vision and managerial leadership for the long term has thus far remained an elusive formula. Even Music of the Baroque, a modern-instrument ensemble with a long history, managed to survive only after a coup more than a decade-and-a-half ago when its founder was unceremoniously dumped by his own board.

Baroque Band was founded by UK violinist Garry Clarke with the hope of beating the odds, and in its prime, its future looked promising. Clarke and company became the pit band for Chicago Opera Theater’s Baroque operas, all but a memory since the departure of Brian Dickie, but having regrouped somewhat in Haymarket Opera. As it happens, a defection of key players from Baroque Band to Haymarket Opera, and the need to bring in players from the East Coast for BB concerts to compensate, likely contributed to making the current model financially unsustainable. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tip Sheet: Pulitzer Reflections and Some Prize Performances

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Jazz, Orchestral No Comments »

Henry Threadgill

By Seth Boustead

French artist and curator Jean Dubuffet coined a term he called art brut, which he defined as “works produced by persons unscathed by artistic culture, where mimicry plays little or no part. These artists derive everything from their own depths and not from the conventions of classical or fashionable art.”

In art brut the expressive content was more important than a glossy finished product; practitioners of art brut walked to the beat of their own drum and never gave a thought as to how their artistic vision fit into larger trends. Art brut would later become known as outsider art, a movement to which Chicago has contributed plenty. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Chicago-style Jazz by Twin Talk & Dave Gordon Sextet

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

cover copy

By Robert Rodi

Twin Talk is a bit of a smirky name for a trio; fortunately there’s nothing at all coy or adorable about these three very accomplished young jazz musicians. Dustin Laurenzi (sax), Katie Ernst (bass/vocals) and Andrew Green (drums) have achieved the kind of stylistic and tonal integration that usually comes after players have been working together a decade or more; it’s a true collaboration, a real conversation—though in many cases, while listening to their eponymous new album, I found the group’s dynamic to be more visual than verbal.

Take the opening cut, “Colorwheel.” A light but determined sax evokes the title artifact turning in a breeze; the breeze dies—the bass sniffs the air—then it all starts up again, with increased speed and exhilaration. Very effective image-painting here. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tip Sheet: The Season Springs Toward a Close

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »

Ensemble Ursa

By Seth Boustead

May is always a busy month for classical music as we wrap up our concert seasons and prepare to adjourn to our summer homes to drink port, abuse the help and shoot defenseless animals.

Sadly though, this year I’ll be stuck in the city as my beloved manor burned down last fall during a regrettable flare-gun duel with an impudent young oboist who questioned my knowledge of French Baroque performance practices. Which admittedly I know nothing about, but still, what the hell? At any rate, here are my favorite upcoming classical music events, sans impudence. Read the rest of this entry »

The Tip Sheet: April’s Best Bets

Chicago Artists, Classical, Minimalism, New Music 1 Comment »

Marc Mellits

By Seth Boustead

For nearly twenty years I made my living as a piano teacher and had as many as sixty students at one time. Over the last few years though, as my kale farming business has taken off, I’ve been cutting down on the number of students and these days I’m down to just one.

She’s close to ninety years old and, when she’s not in Paris or Mexico or some other far-flung locale, she drives herself to her lessons and she’s a better driver than you or me or most anyone I know.

Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Two Chicago Jazz Guitarists Strum Their Stuff

Chicago Artists, Jazz No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

Andrew Trim, a Chicago native, spent most of his childhood in Nagano, Japan; so it’s entirely natural that his style as a jazz musician is heavily influenced by Japanese music—as is Hanami, the ensemble he formed in 2011, and which features Trim on guitar, Mai Sugimoto on alto saxophone and clarinet, Jason Stein on bass clarinet and Charles Rumback on drums. The title of the group’s new album, “The Only Way to Float Free,” is pretty representative of the record’s tone—declarative American swagger blended and tagged with a wisp of eastern spirituality. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Muti on the Mend and on “Falstaff”

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »

Muti, Riccardo -- 2016 Japanese stamp

By Dennis Polkow

When Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti cancelled two weeks of concerts in February, the only details that were released at the time were that he was recovering from a “hip operation” after a “minor accident.”

The timing was odd, as Muti had just completed a tour of the Far East with the CSO. Given the lack of details, international speculation ran rampant that he had injured himself while on tour or even last fall, but had waited to go home for surgery. Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Magix King Conjures Up a “Sick Summer”

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Rap No Comments »


By Craig Bechtel

The calendar has just turned to April, but Magix King is promising that “it’s gonna be a hell of a sick summer.” That’s how the hip-hop artist born Myron Ford Jr. on Chicago’s South Side kicks off his next project, “Sick Summer,” due to drop on May 28.

Magix (he says the ‘x’ is pronounced like a ‘c’ both to protect his brand and it makes him easier to find on the Internet) has already released the first single. “Hi There” is a great entrée into his positive message, rapid-fire raps and heavily layered (but never too busy) production. Toward the end he inserts an aside that “I entertain and empower through the sounds of music,” before he raps that while “they sleep, we grind.” Read the rest of this entry »