Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Earth, Wind & Fire Comes Home to “Celebrate” Life of Founder

Afrobeat, Blues, Calypso, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Funk, In Memoriam, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, Space Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005.

Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005

By Dennis Polkow

When Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died in his sleep on February 3 at the age of seventy-four after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the accolades for the former Chicagoan were universal.

“We had talked the day before and I had seen him a few days before,” says Maurice’s brother, Chicago native and EWF bassist Verdine White, “so this was a huge surprise.” Verdine describes Maurice’s passing as a “transition” and says that he still “guides me, as he always has.” Although Maurice gave up performing with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994, he remained a mentor to the band until his death.

It was Maurice who came up with the idea of a multi-genre band that would be an amalgam of styles at a time when, as Verdine puts it, “there was a revolution going on in music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Avery R. Young/The California Clipper

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews, Neo-soul No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Renowned R&B and neo-soul performer, singer, poet and local celebrity Avery R. Young is notorious for blowing the roof of venues throughout Chicago, where he offers up his entire being through verse, sharing his intense and spirited approach to life, music and politics. Young fuses the past and present through his body on the stage and throughout his lengthy creative career. As he unabashedly delves into the rich traditions of “blk folk,” the African-American experience erupts from Young’s lyrics, bubbling with humor and history. His life practice as an essayist, educator and vocalist culminates in his recent full-length album, “Booker T. Soltreyne: A Race Rekkid.” He calls his work “sunday mornin jook joint,” balancing tragedy and triumph, poetic forms and melodrama with scholarly precision.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Toronzo Cannon/The Hideout

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Periodically I wonder at the endurance of the blues in the frictionless, digital roller coaster we call the twenty-first century. It takes a young artist like Toronzo Cannon (born in 1968, which makes him practically an ingenue in blues circles) to remind us of the reason: that when your life craps out and craters, you end up in a place that never changes. There’s no wifi in the gutter. There’s no anything—not in the external sense; just a population of gone-wrongs, each mired in his or her own tragic psychodrama.

And with Cannon at the frets, that navel-gazing has never sounded more triumphantly invigorating… even funny. In “Walk It Off” (from his new Alligator Records release, “The Chicago Way”) he bemoans that classic uh-oh scenario, “My wife in the club, my girlfriend on the way / I’m standing here nervous while I’m on the stage / She came right in, and sat right down / Wearing the same dress I bought them both when I was out of town.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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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

Blues, Chicago Artists, Jazz, Latin, Lists and Guides No Comments »

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 »