By Dennis Polkow
Columbia College is honoring its first-ever full-time faculty member and the legendary founder of its music department, the late William Russo, with a two-day festival called “Celebrating William Russo: Artist & Educator.”
A Chicago native, Russo’s influence and legacy must be measured in decades and across genres and disciplines. Having studied with pianist Lennie Tristano as a boy, Russo was composing music of his own as a teenager and soon leading jazz bands.
Although Russo joined Stan Kenton’s forty-piece Innovations Orchestra as a trombonist in the early 1950s, he ushered in a pioneering style of orchestral jazz as arranger and composer for that ensemble that remains unparalleled.
Iconic Russo works such as “23 Degrees North, 82 Degrees West” and “Frank Speaking”—both of which will be performed as part of a December 7 concert of Russo’s works at the Jazz Showcase—spotlight Russo’s fascination with cross-fertilizing multiple forms.
“People may not realize how much of a surprising and interesting influence Bill has been on American music,” assesses bluesman Corky Siegel, himself one who loves to bridge musical worlds, and who considers Russo his mentor in doing so. Read the rest of this entry »
Celebrating the demise of something seems counterintuitive and anti-climatic, but Plastic Crimewave Sound isn’t just some buncha Chicago jerks; it’s these Chicago jerks, fronted by the ever-mustachioed Plastic Crimewave. Sure, the ridiculous heights of recording with Ya Ho Wah 13’s Djin Aquarian likely aren’t forthcoming, but there are scant dudes who can say they’ve even had the opportunity to perform with that sub-terra legend. Whatever counted as the troupe’s regular lineup apparently disintegrated sometime last spring, the travails of everyday life being cited as the main reason. You know, babies and marriage? All this PCS hoopla, though, surrounds the group’s (probable) final recording, a tape-only affair being issued through an imprint helmed by Running’s bassist. Read the rest of this entry »
The night before Thanksgiving is the biggest bar night of the year. Beyond the omnipresent college students with a semester of binge-drinking under their ever-expanding belts relishing the opportunity to flaunt their newly minted fake IDs, the night offers a chance to catch up with old friends before spending the following day filling up on food to the brink of discomfort. Spent wisely, the evening is a free-form homecoming for adults in mental preparation for the familiar apprehension that only Thanksgiving with the family can offer. Looking to celebrate a return to sweet home Chicago? There is no better bet than boogieing down with the beat-maestro himself, a man so Chicago he has a street named after him, The Godfather of House Music, Mr. Frankie Knuckles. Smart Bar promises to be packed with Chicagoans of every stripe, as this event is part of the Queen! series, events that openly cater to the LGBT community. Fresh off the legalization of same-sex marriage, the celebration will be a culmination of the jubilation that has been bubbling around the LGBT family since the House vote on November 5. Read the rest of this entry »
By Kenneth Preski
No genre of music has done more to exploit technology than dance. Practitioners have so radically altered the sonic landscape as to render mid-range frequencies obsolete. This is the region of space traditionally reserved for a guitar. Now the sound is maximized at each end of the spectrum, producers opting for punishing squeals of noises that ratchet and reel, high-end frequencies capable of piercing through devastating low-end bass deep enough to rattle your chest. Even vocal samples are subjected to pitch shifting, as much to match tempo as to fit the mix. The music is meant to be physical, hence the overwhelming emphasis on sounds that manipulate movement. From exciting your eardrums to throbbing your torso, if you ever wanted to feel like a vibrating cell phone, you should head to a DJ Rashad show.
Rashad knows much about the impulse to dance. As a member of the House-o-Matics crew, Rashad spent his youth as a dancer immersed in Chicago’s ghetto-house scene—a faster, more aggressive, often explicit take on the post-disco rhythms preferred by the genre’s forefathers. It wouldn’t take long until he became dissatisfied with his role, “I kinda accomplished everything I wanted to do as far as dancing goes, and people wouldn’t take me seriously for doing both, me doing DJing and dancing, so I kinda just like put the shoes down and picked up the needles and took it from there.” Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Mahler Death Mask
After his mammoth Eighth Symphony, Mahler composed “Das Lied von der Erde” and originally subtitled it a symphony. But given that Beethoven, Schubert and Bruckner had all died after writing a Ninth Symphony, Mahler superstitiously refused to place that ominous number on the work and felt that he had somehow cheated fate as a result.
Ironically, Mahler would go on to write a Ninth, and even an un-orchestrated Tenth Symphony, which he would not live to complete. While “Das Lied” is really more of an orchestral song cycle than a symphony, the symphony that Mahler did complete after “Das Lied” and actually did affix the fateful number “Nine” to reflects a resignation of the acceptance of death despite enjoying every last moment of life. The Ninth is an immensely personal statement, as the composer had recently lost a daughter and had himself been recently diagnosed with a fatal heart condition. Like the finale of “Das Lied,” the finale of the massive, conflicted and personal journey of the Ninth fades into existential nothingness and remains a pivotal symphonic statement, culminating as it does the Romantic era of the nineteenth century as well as serving as a precursor of the twentieth-century music that would follow. Read the rest of this entry »
Julie Meckler’s voice is soft and pleasant, and it floats over her acoustic guitar with the familiar, idyllic buoyancy of a rowboat. Left in the wake of her playing are strains of precious and patient melodies, alternating throughout her debut long-player “Queenshead,” most affectedly on the a capella tune “The Cigarettes Song.” The spontaneous results of a throwaway moment—”we were smoking cigarettes in the snow in Chicago”—have a raw majesty missing from the rest of the album, which by way of contrast seems too carefully composed. The listener faces a dilemma: this could be any other release by any other up-and-coming singer/songwriter stuck in the cafe tropes that garner paying gigs. Fortunately, Meckler has an ear for detail that bats those banal qualities away. Field recordings of ambient noise—the traffic in Chicago, the sound of whirling wind—these attributes create a density and purpose that continually ground the carefree melodies, something especially impressive given the inclusion of a bonafide reggae tune in “Bitch.” Read the rest of this entry »
Is there a steadier formation in rock music than the power trio? History has proven that the primal pull of bass, drums and a guitar is unquestionably preferred above any other lineup. Even Led Zeppelin added Robert Plant as an afterthought. Make it a four-piece and the results will bristle. On local boys Fake Limbs’ sophomore effort, the forthcoming “The Power of Patrician Upbringing,” it’s hard to discern the lead vocalist. Is it Stephen Sowley, the guy actually tasked with singing, or Bryan Gleason, the guitarist who refuses to be outshone? The two are at each other’s throats for the duration of the record, trading screams for solos and barks for feedback. The rhythm section, Mat Biscan on bass and Nick Smalkowski on drums, pummel their instruments to keep up, but to no avail. The effect is irrepressible, wild, unkempt—something like a 5am drunken walk home alone, which is incidentally the subject matter for lead track “Green Chartreuse.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Mark Roelof Eleveld
Irish singer-songwriter and rocker Paul Brady has been doing it well for almost half a century. “Chicago is a very educated crowd, they know their music,” says Brady about his November 1 show at Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music with local stalwart John Condron opening. Brady says that the blues played a large part of his set when he was younger. “I have about eighty percent of my solo set down when I get there, and depending on the audience, perhaps some of the Irish tunes, or maybe some old blues; there is always this ‘bleeding noise’ from my past songs saying, ‘hey, what about us?’”
Brady’s catalog is substantial. With more than fourteen albums, including his most recent double-CD compilation “Dancer In The Fire–A Paul Brady Anthology,” Brady’s style is hard to pigeonhole. From Northern Ireland, he is one of the island’s most enduring contemporary musicians. Fellow Irishman Bono of U2 offered that Brady is, “The iron fist in the velvet glove of Irish music,” and no less than Bob Dylan revealed, “Some guys got it down, Leonard Cohen, Paul Brady, Lou Reed, secret heroes.” Read the rest of this entry »
Clockwise from left: Andy Cohen, Tim Midyett, Brian Orchard, and Chris Manfrin.
By Kenneth Preski
“The only reason Bottomless Pit exists is because Michael died.”
From the impetus for creativity in the face of insularity, to the soft underbelly of Steve Albini’s legacy, a conversation with Tim Midyett eight years since his hiatus from interviews offers a remarkable entry point for insight into contemporary American artistic expression; though it is clear that the discussion about his post-Silkworm work with Bottomless Pit can only begin one way, and that’s by confronting the death of former bandmate Michael Dahlquist. A few months shy of his fortieth birthday, Silkworm drummer Dahlquist was one of three musicians killed while idling at an intersection in Skokie. Their vehicle was struck by a Ford Mustang traveling 90mph down West Dempster around noon on a Thursday, the wheel helmed by a suicidal twenty-three-year-old woman. Her only injury was a broken ankle. She was charged with three counts of first-degree murder, later reduced to reckless homicide by reason of insanity. She spent four years in prison for the crime.
“It wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say about that, but I had a lot to say about it, and I wanted it to be real specific, and exactly the way I wanted to say it. All that stuff came out in our records.” Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago’s doom-metal titans Bongripper have been laying low over the past few months writing music for an upcoming full-length release. That’s not to say they’ve been completely MIA: this spring they sent forth into the world the molasses-thick, hellishly low-tuned opus “Zero Talent” on a split with Liverpool’s Conan, and then joined the fellow doom peddlers on tour in the United Kingdom. In addition, the group has recently released a newly minted vinyl pressing of their accurately billed 2010 full-length “Satan Worshipping Doom.” Fans eager to hear what Bongripper’s got brewing now should definitely check out their upcoming show at Township, as the band recently promised on their Facebook page a set of unheard material from the new release. Read the rest of this entry »