Rachel Bonacquisti is just a slip of a girl, but she belongs to that mighty tradition of tiny women—Edith Piaf, Dinah Washington, Janis Joplin—who open their mouths and stop the earth grinding on its axis. She’s the vocalist for Burnside & Hooker, who celebrate the release of their new CD, “All the Way to the Devil,” this month at Double Door. The album ranges pretty far afield, pulling in influences from just about every goddamn genre you can name, with the possible exceptions of polka and J-pop; what binds them together is Bonacquisti’s dominating presence. It takes a certain kind of woman to put across lyrics like, “Stop making me the bad guy / Stop making me the fool / Stop saying that I tie you down and lock you up / And then send me back to your room,” and Bonacquisti is absolutely that woman. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago singer-songwriter Lili K. first galvanized me with the debut single off her new album, “Ruby.” The tune—“Tommy”—is such a polished, pitch-perfect soul ballad, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it had come out in the seventies. “I got a man, he’s as sweet as pecan pie,” the singer croons seductively at the outset, against a backdrop of sultry trumpets; and by the bridge (which will get in your brain so deep major surgery may be required to remove it), she’s enlisted a trio of backup singers to help declaim the super-fineness of her guy (“Tommy / You’re like a book of poetry / Tommy / Your words alone excite me / Tommy / Don’t you ever let go of me”). It wasn’t till I saw the video that I got Lili K.’s utterly modern playfulness. Read the rest of this entry »
Gayle and Alan Heatherington
By Dennis Polkow
More often than not, performing arts organizations tend to cease operations for insufficient funding, declining audiences or both. How then to explain last month’s stunning announcement that after twenty years, with its extraordinary aesthetic vision fully intact, its operations solvent and its audiences supportive and enthusiastic, the 2014-15 season would be the final one ever for the Ars Viva Orchestra?
Coming onstage with his wife, Ars Viva executive director Gayle Heatherington, at his side, the organization’s founder and music director Alan Heatherington postponed his customary illuminating introductory remarks about the music about to be performed.
“All good things come to an end,” he said instead, “all great things come to an end. How many of you have had a favorite restaurant that closed?” By now, audience members had become uneasy with suspense, so Heatherington immediately broke the tension by getting right to the point: “So we are here together to announce that the May concert will be the final concert of Ars Viva,” he declared to audience gasps. Read the rest of this entry »
Mind Over Mirrors
The demos and festival lineup announcements are starting to roll in, y’all. It’s officially spring. The coming weeks bring the first of what promises to be a lot of great shows, unusual musical events with a national angle and some unexpected events with a lot of promise.
The You Are Here Festival—aka The Maze—is a Brooklyn-based touring public art festival that makes a Chicago appearance this month through May 24 at Thalia Hall (1807 South Allport). True to its name, the festival takes place inside a gigantic, life-size maze, while audience members experience sound, light installations, sculpture and music. The full lineup is TBA as of this writing, but based on the local acts/artists that have already been announced (Experimental Sound Studio, Bruce Lamont) if experimental and/or electronic music is your thing, this event will be your jam. On May 22, you can get lost in the ambient drone of Mind Over Mirrors (aka Jaime Fennelly) and the mellow lo-fi synth of Potions. Definitely check out house-influenced Chicago synth musician/singer Gel Set (Laura Callier) on May 24. Gel Set’s pulsating beats and her own atmospheric vocals will certainly set the right kind of ethereal mood within The Maze. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago continued its dominance over new music last week as Preston Oshita, better known to the world as Towkio of the SaveMoney hip-hop collective, unveiled his highly anticipated “.Wav Theory” project to the world. Part of the group that brought us Vic Mensa and Chance The Rapper, Towkio here steps out with a talented, genre-bending release that comes packed with local intonations while looking optimistically outward, as the world opens up for the young artist. Formerly know locally as Tokyo Shawn, Towkio has always been the outlying presence in a collective that boasts some diagonal personalities. A former quarterback at Lane Tech High School, he’s been a leader for a new school of fashion-forward rhymesayers who have paced the Chicago scene. “.Wav Theory” is his magnum opus—at least to this point in his career. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
Haley Fohr is very young—just twenty-five—but she sounds like some ancient oracle. Her rich, resonant female baritone has a lower range that rumbles ominously, like plate tectonics, and an upper that’s so dizzyingly perched, it can induce vertigo. On pure vocal fireworks alone, the new album by her brainchild, Circuit des Yeux, is a galvanizing listen; but it’s got much more than that going for it. Less a collection of songs than a trek across her sonic headspace, “In Plain Speech” is a remarkable document of a budding composer’s development. And lest that come off as condescending, let me just add that she’s already leagues ahead of many singer-songwriters twice her age. Read the rest of this entry »
Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Psychedelic, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul
By Dennis Polkow
Although Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang is calling from London, where he’s just given a recital at Royal Albert Hall, he is thinking ahead to Chicago. “I need to buy a new suit, I had my big breakthrough there,” he recalls, a reference to when, at conductor Christoph Eschenbach’s encouragement, he stepped in as a last-minute, unknown replacement for an indisposed Andre Watts at a 1999 Ravinia Festival Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala, and became an overnight sensation at the ripe old age of seventeen.
Eschenbach, then Ravinia music director, was a mentor to Lang Lang, as was then-CSO music director Daniel Barenboim, so that Chicago was like a second home. He was the first artist to offer a piano recital at the Civic Opera House in 2012, and was so impressed with the sound of the venue, that he returns there this month. “When you see such a big hall, you always worry about, ‘what is the sound like?’ But it has perfect sound. I remember last time, I was playing Mozart, it was so beautiful, so precise, so intimate. It’s a miracle to see such a big space have such an intimate sound.” Read the rest of this entry »
In the sixteen years since his death at the hands of homophobes, Matthew Shepard has become the face of gay martyrdom, and his image—forever young, forever tousle-headed, forever tragic—has permeated gay culture. But that image’s power is redoubled by the almost equally iconic efforts of his mother, Judy Shepard, who turned grief into activism and established a foundation in her son’s name, dedicated to eradicating hate crimes. It’s Judy’s influence that has resulted in the unlikely event taking place on May 3: a benefit featuring an impressive lineup of Chicago musicians, the majority of whom are heterosexual and almost all of whom specialize in jazz—not a genre often associated with gay causes. Read the rest of this entry »
Chamber ensembles channeling rock-band dynamics is nothing new, and no one drops a jaw anymore when a string quartet squeezes a Radiohead tune between pieces by Michael Nyman and John Adams. What’s left is to perfect the fusion—to achieve the kind of seamlessness in performance that makes disparate pieces cohere into an artistic point of view. eighth blackbird (the lowercase caps are deliberate), the Chicago-based sextet, has a pretty impressive track record at this kind of thing, and its latest recital is a good example of why. Read the rest of this entry »
By Corey Hall
Silently, the musicians in the Chicago-born Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) stand and face east before a single note is expressed. This, according to Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association’s co-founder, is because all life originates in the east. If any evil energies exist in a performance space, the musicians must wear war paint and masks for protection. This tradition has characterized AACM presentations since 1965.
The organization celebrates its golden anniversary this month, beginning on April 22 with a performance by the Hanah Jon Taylor Artet at The Promontory and culminating in a collaborative finale, “Together: A Power Stronger Than Itself,” at Mandel Hall on April 26, in which fifty AACM members perform as one. In between are recitals and concerts at various venues around town, by artists such as Saalik’s Epoch Zed, cellist Tomeka Reid and The Colson Group.
Drummer Dushun Mosley and violist Renée Baker—two AACM members who are participating in multiple performances during the celebration—recently spoke about why this cooperative association still matters. Read the rest of this entry »