Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

South Side Jazz Coalition: From DuSable to Obama—by Way of Orbert Davis

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Orbert Davis/Photo: Darron Jones

By Corey Hall

Chicago’s origins and present, along with a festival’s rebirth, are celebrated by the South Side Jazz Coalition on January 16. That’s when Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) performs the score to “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis,” a documentary that first aired on WTTW in 2010 and won an Emmy Award. The Coalition’s second fundraising event is designed to raise funds for revitalizing the annual South Shore Jazz Festival, a thirty-one-year ritual that ended in 2012.

Now that the Coalition’s nonprofit status has been secured, it is attracting sponsors, determining a date, securing a lakefront location and selecting musicians for the revived festival, according to Coalition board member Margaret Murphy-Webb. This effort, she added, has been endorsed by Geraldine de Haas—the festival’s founder who, in 2013, relocated to the East Coast with her husband for health reasons—and surrounding communities.

“We expected 150 people at our first fundraiser, held last summer at the Quarry [in South Shore],” Murphy-Webb says. “We seated 180, and a total of 240 people showed up. This event on the sixteenth will seat 500, and we are urging people to get tickets early, because we don’t want to turn anybody away.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Downright R&B, Upright Art Rock

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Funk, Indie Rock, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

The new album by local soul outfit The Congregation is called “Record Collection,” which is exactly perfect, because every single cut sounds like something you had teetering in a waist-high stack of forty-fives in your bedroom circa 1972. (At least, if you’re as old as I am, you did.) The first, eponymous cut lays it all out: “You only love me for my record collection / You say you never felt a deeper connection / Nothing gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax / Without the record spinnin’ would you like it like that?” I found myself actually picturing the Motown and Stax platter labels while I was listening—Atlantic, Epic and Mercury too.

This is about the point in a review where I usually say something about how the band in question brings a twenty-first century sensibility to an antique genre by a strategic infusion of self-aware blah blah blah. None of that here. The fact is, early seventies soul, funk and R&B form, collectively, such a staggering body of work that when people say they’re approaching it from a post-something-or-other perspective, it usually means they just can’t goddamn play as well as those old cats. But The Congregation is completely unafraid to meet the legends on level ground, without the protective cover of ironic distance—and even if they didn’t get points for sheer swagger, they’d get it for delivering the goods. This is a great album. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Atomic Ragtime and Radiant Folk, Chicago Style

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Record Store Day, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

NoHotel_Claudettes

By Robert Rodi

I’m just a hair late to the party when it comes to “No Hotel,” the new album by Chicago’s own neo-vaudeville barnstormers, The Claudettes; but the album (which came out in September) is definitely one you should be spinning, streaming or otherwise ingesting whole. It’s the work of just three players—pianist Johnny Iguana, drummer Michael Caskey and (intermittently) vocalist Yana—but there’s enough energy going on to power your average Third World airport.

The opener, “Big Easy Women,” is full of a barreling, hyper-saloon piano banging, with a bridge that playfully evokes silent-movie peril. But it’s the second cut—“California, Here I Come”—that really makes you sit up and take notice. The Claudettes knock the hoary old Al Jolson tune into a minor key, transforming it into a wittily downbeat comment on the cruelty that so often accompanies the go-west-young-man dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Billy Strayhorn Lived a “Lush Life” Beyond Duke Ellington

Big Band, Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Vocal Music No Comments »
Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

By Dennis Polkow

When Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli first came up with the idea of devoting an entire concert to the music of Billy Strayhorn more than a decade ago, the first question was often, “Billy who?”

“It was for a gay chorus that I directed for eight years in Los Angeles,” recalls Rastrelli, “and they had a tradition of doing single composer concerts: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman. I wanted to move beyond doing composers that were obvious. I wanted to challenge the chorus and the community with things they didn’t know, specifically jazz, and especially a black composer who was out and gay at a time when that was not at all typical.”

Strayhorn is best known for his near thirty-year association with Duke Ellington, from the time they met in 1938 until Strayhorn’s early death from cancer in 1967 at the age of fifty-one. Often given direct credit, sometimes not, Strayhorn is estimated to have composed and arranged some forty percent of the entire Ellington catalogue and was, as Ellington himself put it in his autobiography, “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Music Preview 2015

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By Seth Boustead

I decided to write my fall music preview as the lead sheet to an original tune in the style of Charlie Parker. Parker was an amazing composer and performer, of course; but he was also generous and gregarious, which I feel could equally well be said about the musicians who make the Chicago scene so special.

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For the more verbally-oriented among you, however, here are my picks for essential fall music events.

Ellen McSweeney and Sam Scranton Present MIMIC
Chicago label Parlour Tapes + presents the violinist/writer and composer/percussionist in a collaborative piece that is a kind of mash-up of music as ancient ritual with futuristic philosophical spirituality.
September 10, 7:30pm at Comfort Station, 2579 North Milwaukee. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: “Halo” Composers Collaborate with Paul McCartney

Ambient, Blues, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Folk, Interviews, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Vocal Music No Comments »
Paul McCartney, Martin O'Donnell, Michael Salvatori

Paul McCartney, Martin O’Donnell, Michael Salvatori

By Dennis Polkow

Martin O’Donnell and Michael Salvatori have been friends back to their college days in the 1970s when they were in rival bands in the western suburbs. “We’ve always been very competitive with one another,” Salvatori recalls. “Marty came in to record five songs with his band, so of course, I had to write better songs and record those as well.”

While Salvatori was working for his father’s printing company, O’Donnell was painting houses to put himself through music school. “They were shooting a television commercial and Marty was painting the set. The director found out that he was a composer and offered him five hundred dollars if he would write some music for it. I had just taken out a loan for a basement recording studio setup and Marty called up and said, ‘If you let me record there, I’ll split everything with you fifty-fifty.’ We put ourselves out there on a handshake and collaborated on the commercial as O’Donnell-Salvatori, like Lennon-McCartney. It has been that way ever since.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: From Lt. Dan Band to Symphonic Salutes, Kimo Williams Serves Those Who Served

Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Folk, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Rock No Comments »
Kimo Williams (left) and Gary Sinise with Lt. Dan Band

Kimo Williams (left) and Gary Sinise with Lt. Dan Band

By Dennis Polkow

“When I tell people I’m a Vietnam Vet, I hear, ‘Thank you for your service,’ ” laments composer and guitarist Kimo Williams. “There’s a time, there’s a place for saying that. It just rolls off of people like a painful cliché and you’re forced to react or respond. Do you know what my service was? Do you know what I did? Hear my story, then if you want to thank me, fine.”

Williams has spent a lifetime of service to those who have been in service, starting with his own stint in the military that brought him to Vietnam in 1969. “I was a combat engineer and my job was to provide supplies to fix the dossiers that would clear land mines. Two friends of mine and I had decided one morning that we were going to see ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ that night. It got to be the end of the day and I’m getting the popcorn but was told, ‘They didn’t make it.’ That was the first time that it hit me. I was so naïve I said, ‘What do you mean?’ It hit me hard, this was forever. That’s it? I went to the movie and you do continue on. It numbs you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Candy Town/Double Door

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CandyTown

RECOMMENDED

Chicago singer-songwriter Sean Guinan has apparently decided our current cultural moment isn’t Weimar Republic enough. How else to explain Candy Town, the musical troupe he put together five years ago, which has been gleefully trawling Chicago’s demimonde ever since? (Though perhaps seeking to create a Chicago demimonde is more accurate.) Got up in greasepaint, a bowler hat and a backroom croupier’s shirtsleeves, Guinan fronts the band with sinuous glee, flanked by two singers—Maggie O’Keefe and Kristin Srail—who are more often than not dressed in cat suits. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Lang Lang Dresses Up and Down for Chicago, Sixties Rockers Hold Summit for Musician’s Musician

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 No Comments »
Lang Lang  Photo: Neale Haynes

Lang Lang

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 »

Offbeat: An Eclectic “Messiah” for a Diverse Holiday, Muti on Scriabin as the Next Mahler

Big Band, Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, R&B, Reggae, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music No Comments »
Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

By Dennis Polkow

“We’re both preachers’ kids,” says soprano Alfreda Burke of herself and husband, tenor Rodrick Dixon. “And as classical singers, we had both done our share of traditional Handel ‘Messiah’ performances.”

For the past ten years, however, the couple has been headlining the “Too Hot to Handel: A Jazz-Gospel Messiah,” each Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. With the Auditorium celebrating its 125th anniversary this season and these being the tenth anniversary Chicago performances of “Too Hot to Handel,” Burke says “this is going to be a very festive celebration this time around.”

“It really started with [conductor] Marin Alsop in New York City with the Concordia Orchestra,” explains Dixon, who became familiar with the piece by being asked to substitute for Thomas Young, the work’s original tenor. “Marin had commissioned it from Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson, to do a whole rearrangement of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with a modern twist that kept the famous melodies that people have come to love all over the world, except modernizing them in the sense of jazz, gospel, blues and some cinematic orchestration ideas that Bob and Gary were very well known for in New York.” Read the rest of this entry »