Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop
By Kenneth Preski
Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.
“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”
Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Dee Alexander/Photo: Jim Newberry
High expectations for a festival in the neighborhood where the current President of the United States makes his home is a given. That the festival actually delivers on these expectations is quite remarkable, especially since there are no truly big names scheduled to perform. Instead, the focus is sharply attuned to the local free jazz scene. Perhaps the support of the festival’s lead and founding sponsor, the University of Chicago’s Office of Civic Engagement, had an impact on the amount of research done to cater such an excellent set of Chicago musicians. Now in their seventh year, the festival opens with a panel devoted to the legendary Sun Ra, whose earliest Chicago performances often took place in the now defunct Club DeLisa nestled in the far less affluent, adjacent Washington Park neighborhood. To be sure, the University has done much to market to a broad range of Chicagoans, hence the importance of the inclusion of the DuSable Museum, and Little Black Pearl in Kenwood as venues for performances. Read the rest of this entry »
There’s a tendency to attach the catch-all label of “world music” to any artist or band with non-Western musical influences. Accurate? Not always. But it’s a simple description to categorize and define a band’s sound. That being said, to classify the music of Slowbots as “world music” or “multicultural” is to immediately confine it to labels that don’t fully reflect this Chicago music collective’s varied influences. Slowbots’ moody ballads owe as much to the Velvet Underground as they do to the traditional Urdu singing that vocalist Yasmin Ali was trained in. In Slowbots you can hear strains of shoegaze, trip-hop, and folk with spacey, fuzzed-out guitar lines weaving their way through the soulful vocals of Ali and Angela Salva’s plaintive violin, all anchored by the R&B-influenced percussion work of Katie Chow. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dave Cantor
Photo: Michael Jackson
Honing in on sounds drawn from Jamaica invariably abut America’s jazz tradition. Drummer Ted Sirota’s more than vaguely familiar with both. But his estrangement from reggae and dub didn’t occur because of lacking fealty. The drummer just found himself more easily insinuated into jazz ensembles.
“I’m rediscovering the whole thing,” Sirota says of Chicago’s Jamaican music scene, after spending the better part of the last two decades working in jazz mode across the city, including a regular date at the Green Mill as Sabertooth’s backbone.
Earlier in his career, the percussionist did time in David Byrd’s ensemble, which at one point included a former Black Uhuru guitarist. Other well-known guests weren’t too uncommon, either.
“Sometimes we’d play gigs where Hamid Drake would do percussion,” Sirota says. “He’d bring a djembe, and I’d play drums—we’d switch off a little.” Read the rest of this entry »
Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Emo, Festivals, Hardcore, Hip-Hop, Indie Rock, Pop Punk, Punk, Rap, Rock
Thirteen concurrent thoughts that afflict the bystander of a bus advertisement featuring this year’s Riot Fest lineup: I had no idea The Replacements got back together. Can you imagine how many kids will be singing along to Fall Out Boy and Blink-182? Can you imagine how many of their parents will be singing along to the Violent Femmes? Even without Kim Deal, I don’t think I can see the Pixies enough. What I wouldn’t do to see Debbie Harry duet with Danzig. It’s possible that Guided By Voices have written enough songs for at least one to appeal to every single person on the planet. Flavor Flav of Public Enemy may be the greatest reality television star who ever lived. One of the two Black Flag reunion bands is playing, and so is X, making this one of the best punk shows of the year. If you substitute Brand New and Taking Back Sunday in their place, the same can be said about emo. In fact, local pop punk bands popular in the 1990s are so well represented by the likes of Screeching Weasel, Smoking Popes, The Broadways and The Lawrence Arms, as to lend the festival an air of well-honed sophistication. Read the rest of this entry »
When Beethoven died, John Quincy Adams was President of the United States. Illinois had been a state for less than a decade, and Chicago wouldn’t be incorporated for another seven years. That Chicago will play host to the world premiere of a Beethoven love song is astounding by all measures, none more so than the respective age of the composition, older than the city where it will be performed for the first time. To celebrate the momentous occasion, The International Beethoven Project, led by President and Artistic Director George Lepauw, have assembled a broad swath of love-inspired performers, including Wilco’s phenomenal drummer Glenn Kotche, and Gray, a band started by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. The programming often takes musicians to task, asking them to perform variations on a theme, most potently Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony,” which will get special piano and experimental electronic treatment resulting in a great number of entirely new compositions. And though the festival is his namesake, Beethoven is not the only composer represented. Matthias Pintscher, music director of Paris’ Ensemble InterContemporain, will conduct Bach’s “Saint-John’s Passion,” Wagner’s “Siegfried Idyll,” and “Overture to Tristan and Isolde,” and Mozart’s “Gran Partita,” all as a buildup to his take on Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral Symphony).” Read the rest of this entry »
In the beginning of his career, saxophonist Harrison was billed as Donald Harrison Jr. out of respect for his well-known father, Donald Harrison Sr., whose stature as Big Chief in New Orleans cannot be overstated. The Mardi Gras Indians to this day foster a tradition centuries old, where slaves would gather on Sundays in Congo Square, the liberal epicenter of African dance and music in a city fraught with violence and death. Contemporary Mardi Gras Indians are known for their elaborate warrior outfits, fitted with feathers and beads of eye-catching beauty, immaculately placed atop a design of intimate political resonance. During parades, the Indians find solace in singing, their chants burst through crowds of tourists during Mardi Gras, their march unmistakable and moving and surprisingly joyful and invigorating. During the off season, Big Chiefs are community leaders, and every so often their roaring voices are beckoned forth by recording artists like Harrison, as evidenced by his vastly underrated 1992 classic “Indian Blues.” Read the rest of this entry »
Taxpaying Chicagoans have grown weary from decades of superfluous government spending, and events like the Chicago Jazz Festival should not be free from the same scrutiny that every other city program faces. The proper justification for the event is to be found in Saturday night’s festivities, with propulsive pianist Jason Moran set to headline the most popular evening of the four. That jazz music is a uniquely American treasure is no longer popular opinion among our country’s youth, but Moran’s performance promises such a wide appeal as to turn even the most strident challengers into active participants. All that’s to say, if you are in attendance this Saturday evening, you should expect to dance. For some, a free dance party is justification enough. The hypnotic ability of music to move its listeners is self-evident. It renders criticism obsolete. But to lay out the legacy of twentieth-century American musicality requires the nuance of a gifted player. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Dorothy Darr
By Dave Cantor
Drawn from an historical Memphis, one with Howlin’ Wolf and his musical brethren stalking rent parties, saxophonist and flautist Charles Lloyd made his way to Los Angeles, bolstered by hope of picking up what he could about Hungarian composer Béla Bartók.
Once ensconced by the University of Southern California and academia, Lloyd heard a voice from outside those cloistering walls. And it was Ornette Coleman.
“We used to practice together and argued a lot about music,” Lloyd says about his formative years in L.A. with Coleman. “We have a deep love and respect for one another.”
Finding a fertile West Coast scene littered with talents like Eric Dolphy, Gabor Szabo and Coleman, it’d be expected that Lloyd would settle into one of the largest markets in the country and help ferry jazz through 1960s tumult. And listening to the Memphis native on Chico Hamilton recordings from the period, it’s difficult to ignore the free-eclecticism seething from Lloyd’s lopping lines as he engages with the percussionist in a “Mallet Dance.” Read the rest of this entry »