Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Aimard Returns to Boulez, Muti Mourns Patner

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, In Memoriam, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Pierre Boulez and Pierre-Laurent Aimard / Photo: Roger Mastroianni

Pierre Boulez and Pierre-Laurent Aimard / Photo: Roger Mastroianni

By Dennis Polkow

When French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard came to Chicago in 1986, it was as a member of Pierre Boulez’s l’Ensemble InterContemporain for a week of performances. At that time, Aimard had already been playing with the Ensemble since its inception a decade earlier.

“It was such an exciting time,” Aimard recalls. “Boulez had been active abroad and was living in Germany but the moment he came back to France, there was so much anticipation.” Boulez did not disappoint: he founded the Paris-based IRCAM, the Institute for Research and Coordination in Acoustics and Music, with the goal of enlarging the domain of materials used for music. That goal was embraced by musicians of all genres and even brought Frank Zappa to Boulez.

When Boulez himself asked Aimard to join IRCAM’s new resident ensemble, “it was a privilege, and I thought I would be there for a couple of years.” He would remain for eighteen years, before finally setting off to have a career of his own in 1994. “I was overwhelmed by the power of his artistry, of his musicianship, his fabulous intellect, his work ethic and the commitment that he gave to all of the pieces he was serving. It was a happy eighteen years.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Zap Mama Teams with Antibalas, Gunther Schuller Twines Jazz and Classical

Afrobeat, Big Band, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

Marie Daulne of Zap Mama

By Dennis Polkow

Marie Daulne, founder and lead singer of the Afropop female group Zap Mama, has always straddled two continents. She never knew her European father; he was killed at the hands of Simba rebels in the Congo, where Daulne was born and from where she, her mother and sisters escaped to live in her father’s native Belgium.

One of Daulne’s primary influences growing up was Afrobeat and Fela Kuti. “All Africans living in Europe listened to him,” she says. She even saw Kuti perform as a teenager and was delighted years later when she was living in New York and “Fela!” opened on Broadway. “Prior to that, the most African thing on Broadway was ‘The Lion King’! I returned to the show several times to see Antibalas perform.” Antibalas is the Brooklyn-based Afrobeat ensemble that arranged and performed all of the music for “Fela!,” modeled on Kuti’s own Africa 70 band. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Shulamit Ran on Fifty Years of Contempo and John Eaton on Setting Death to Music

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Shulamit Ran (Photo: Laura Hamm)

Shulamit Ran/Photo: Laura Hamm

By Dennis Polkow

Some forty-plus years later, composer Shulamit Ran still recalls her first exposure to the music of Ralph Shapey, the legendary University of Chicago composer and founder of the Contemporary Chamber Players (later known as “Contempo” for short). “It was in New York,” she says. “I do remember very distinctly feeling that this was powerful music, that for all of its high dissonance and rigor, it was music that spoke from the heart and had a passion and a specificity about it that I really appreciated.”

Much to Ran’s surprise, Shapey had come across an LP of a work of hers that impressed him so much that he sought her out for a composition position at UChicago. “It was very strange,” Ran recalls; “I knew no one in Chicago and had never been there, but once [Shapey and I] met, there was an immediate meeting of the minds… some sort of fundamental musical affinity.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Chicago Jazz Philharmonic at Ten, Pierre Boulez at Ninety

Big Band, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral No Comments »
Orbert Davis

Orbert Davis

By Dennis Polkow

“When we started, the world knew me only as a jazz trumpet player,” admits Orbert Davis, the founder and artistic director of the sixty-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this season. “Even the musicians were like, ‘What is he going to do, standing up there? He’s not a conductor!’ When we did our first recording, some of the sub musicians looked around and said, ‘Who wrote this?’ ‘I did!’ ”

Davis’ vision of a full-scale “third stream” ensemble has evolved over the past decade. “We think of the first stream, which is classical, and the second stream, which is jazz, but it’s difficult to understand how they come together; we tend to think of what keeps them apart.” Originally the orchestra featured both classical and jazz musicians, and the school each belonged to was obvious. Now the members have synthesized into a core group who “get it,” Davis asserts. “They are a community. I can reference [Ellington’s] ‘Jubilee Stomp’ or a Beethoven symphony and everyone knows what I’m asking for!” Read the rest of this entry »

Live Review: Avey Tare’s Slasher Flicks/Pitchfork Music Festival

Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

Avey Tare’s vocal is an unmistakable sinewy siren, like someone with a cold singing through a phase pedal. His work in Animal Collective is the manic upswing to Panda Bear’s pastiche programming, and four years after his band-mate’s solo set at the Pitchfork Festival, Tare finally got his due. Fronting a formidable trio, Tare and company rumbled through a collection of tracks that very nearly could be “Strawberry Jam” b-sides, and no surprise given Animal Collective’s devout following among Pitchfork readers, the audience was delighted. All your standard festival fanfare was present: dancing, crowd-surfing and blown-up condom balloons floating beautifully into the balmy evening. One suspects that Tare wouldn’t have it any other way, and by the end of the set, all his devotees were jumping and humming along with all the spastic energy that only youth can afford. (Kenneth Preski)

Live Review: Neneh Cherry/Pitchfork Music Festival

Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Festivals, Funk, Live Reviews, R&B No Comments »
Photo: Robert Loerzel

Photo: Robert Loerzel

It requires very little effort to fall deeply in love with Neneh Cherry when she’s performing on stage. Cherry’s complete dedication to delighting her audience was the saving grace of her second-ever performance in the United States (the first since 1992), as the gentlemen of RocketNumberNine were pushed to their maximum efforts, battling electronic failure and, one suspects, jet-lag in equal measure. No matter, Cherry was an absolute delight, playing cuts off her latest, and yes, closing with “Buffalo Stance,” albeit a version with subdued instrumentation. The set blossomed more than it banged, the crowd allowing easy access to the closer spots near the front, as much of the audience began picnicking in preparation for Sharon Van Etten on the adjacent stage. Yet there’s simply no denying Cherry’s infectious presence, her unflinching embrace of an unmatched exuberance; it had me almost wishing that she would do the entire set a cappella. If this turns out to be Cherry’s last ever performance in the United States, I’d still somehow feel satisfied. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Oneohtrix Point Never/Millennium Park

Experimental No Comments »



The ice castle comes to summer. “R Plus Seven,” Oneohtrix Point Never’s gothic coliseum of ghosts, will turn Millennium Park into a stadium of wonder. Its huge, lonely, soul-prodding sounds may seem like anathema to the ostensible family delight of Chicago’s second-largest downtown park, but the Loops and Variations series (that of all Thursday nights in summer) has always been about weirding out as many people as possible at once. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Swans/Lincoln Hall

Experimental, Post-punk, Rock No Comments »


Legendary heavy experimental band Swans is headlining Lincoln Hall for what promises to be a terrifying and fascinating exposition of the adult haunted house that the band has been showcasing for the past thirty-two years. Their latest release “To Be Kind,” is their thirteenth studio album and is as intimidating as all of their releases in the past. The whole album, which is over two hours long, sounds like the soundtrack for a tour of a serial killer’s house. Swans has honed in on the aspects of doom and gloom that affect everyone, artfully crafting these elements together in a way that don’t give the listener even a hint of a break. Read the rest of this entry »

Monster Movie: Fuck Buttons Lumber Toward Musicality

Electronic/Dance, Experimental No Comments »
Photo/Alex de Mora

Photo: Alex de Mora

By Dave Cantor

Andrew Hung wasn’t available on a recent Monday to chat. He was at the movies, watching “Godzilla.”

His British duo, Fuck Buttons, isn’t exactly the same thing as that film’s misunderstood beast, who in its newest incarnation is something of an anti-hero. But kinda. Since 2008, Fuck Buttons has crafted three albums’ worth of monstrously noisy electronic music, beginning with its six-track “Street Horrrsing.” What Hung and his partner, Benjamin John Power, couldn’t have expected is that such an offensively named group, making such abrasive music, would wind up being something of an international success. On the strength of a track off its second album, “Tarot Sport,” the duo had its music included in the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympics. The ten-minute song’s tenor didn’t necessarily fit the heroic intention of the athletic event, but that’s of little importance. What it means, though, is that Fuck Buttons’ compositions connect with a wider audience than it has any right to. Read the rest of this entry »