Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Dual Command: Chicago Underground Duo Locates its Locus

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

Courtesy Northern Spy Records

By Dave Cantor

This is how much noise two dudes can make.

In an improvising group consisting of just drummer Chad Taylor and cornetist Rob Mazurek, it’d be assumed that intent listening plays a significant role in how the Chicago Underground Duo put together its works. But the truth, each player says, is somewhere between thought and expression.

“One of the first things Cooper-Moore said to me when I started playing with him is that I’m a really good listener,” Taylor writes in an email from Europe, where he’s touring as part of the Eric Revis Quartet. “I took it as a compliment, but he meant it to be an insult. What I have learned over the years is that it is important to listen, but if you listen too much, everything you play is a reaction to something you’ve heard.” Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Made to Love Him: Celebrating Love” by Nhojj

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Vocal Music 1 Comment »


On an album comprised mostly of well-known standards (save for one original composition), Chicago-based singer-songwriter Nhojj celebrates the growing acceptance of same-sex relationships in the United States and abroad. “I am deeply grateful,” he writes in the liners, “to be living in a time when an album celebrating same-gender love could be released and even applauded.”

The album opens with a pared-down version of “Over The Rainbow” done solely with the accompaniment of Marcelo Cardozo’s electric guitar. Nhojj’s vocal range resembles that of the late Michael Jackson–he has the ability to reach low notes but mostly sings using a higher register, approaching each song in a different way. On India.Arie’s “He Heals Me,” he takes more of an R&B approach, taking advantage of the full band behind him, while on tunes like the George & Ira Gershwin classic “Our Love Is Here To Stay” he sings with a quiet bossa-like sensibility. Nhojj also reinvents Beyoncé’s “Love on Top,” going for a playful samba-tinged groove without missing out on any of the title’s double entendre. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Spyro Gyra/North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Jazz No Comments »


How many bands in the world (any genre, go ahead) do you know that are name-checked in a classic pop lyric? Excluding The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, there aren’t too many (no, “Moves Like Jagger” is not about the band). The odds of a jazz group being included are extremely low, but Spyro Gyra is one of the chosen few–their name is brought up in Jorge Ben’s “País Tropical,” a world music hit that many of his fans sing along to even though most might not have a clue what he is singing about.

Led by saxophonist Jay Beckenstein and keyboardist Tom Schuman, Spyro Gyra has been one of the most influential groups in the jazz-fusion and world music scenes since the band’s inception in the 1980s. Spyro Gyra was also a launching pad for names like trumpeter Chris Botti (who played with them in the 1990s), percussionist Cyro Baptista and vocalist Bonny B. On their latest release “The Rhinebeck Sessions,” the group distances themselves from their recent smooth jazz direction to reach back into their funk/fusion roots, embracing straight-ahead numbers that showcase the group’s individuality. Read the rest of this entry »

Lunch with Joshua: Abrams on New Releases from Natural Information Society in 2014

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

Photo: Lisa Alvarado

By Kenneth Preski

Joshua Abrams sits at a corner table in a Puerto Rican café. Salsa music from the speaker hanging overhead fills the Chicago restaurant, every song sung in Spanish. On playback, the background music is so good it makes me dance while I transcribe the interview. We discuss sound engineering, which ends with this insight from the musician: “I’m a believer that actual experience can only help things.” Not too many interviews with Abrams exist. He doesn’t seek out notoriety on these grounds. “I prefer when people want to speak about it,” he says. “It’s like, oh, okay, you’ve obviously listened to the music, formed opinions about it, now we can talk about it.” A primer of Abrams’ work, then.

Following a stint on bass for The Roots, Abrams relocated to Chicago from Philadelphia to study at Northwestern University. In the time that followed, he appeared on recordings with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Rob Mazurek, Joan of Arc, Roscoe Mitchell, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Fred Anderson. He was a member of both Town and Country, and Sticks and Stones. He put out an album on Delmark as Josh Abrams, explored hip-hop production under the pseudonym Reminder, and gigged around the city relentlessly, even providing “The Interrupters” film score. For the purposes of our interview, none of this interests me at all. His last three outings as bandleader, two albums with Natural Information Society, one with the Joshua Abrams Quartet, are far and away the most compelling string of local releases in years. Across from me sits an artist at a creative apex, and so I veer our conversation toward capturing insight into the method of expression. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sidewalk Chalk/Double Door

Chicago Artists, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Soul No Comments »


The Chicago-based octet Sidewalk Chalk is far from your ordinary hip-hop group. The band fuses soul and jazz with contemporary beats and insightful lyrics to create original songs and live performances that get even the most conservative of concert-goers on their feet. Their arrangements highlight what each of the band’s members bring to the table. Maggie Vagle (vocals) and Rico Sisney (MC) complement each other on stage as well as they do on tracks, matching energy and emotion note for note. Likewise, while Tyler Berg uses a drum set to keep time, Jumaane Taylor tap dances to add in rhythms and provide a unique flair to the band’s sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Carlos Núñez/Old Town School of Folk Music

Celtic, Jazz, Latin, World Music No Comments »


When you think about Celtic music, you probably think of someone from the Scottish Highlands, Ireland or maybe France, but you will definitely change your mind when you hear the sounds of this talented musician from Galicia, Spain who has collaborated with the likes of The Chieftains (he was considered their “seventh member” when he worked with them), Sinéad O’Connor, Mexican-American band Los Lobos and Ry Cooder, to name a few.

Carlos Núñez is a virtuoso of the gaita, which is the Galician version of the bagpipes (another take on the instrument is also widely used by folk musicians in Italy). His style could be described as a blend of flamenco, Spanish folk, jazz and Celtic music with a contemporary, almost pop-like feel. His band’s arrangements are highly percussive and include instruments not commonly associated with Celtic music, such as Spanish guitars, electric bass, horns and Latin drums.

In a live format Núñez has fantastic energy and creativity with his improvised licks. He plays his gaita with the demeanor of a rock guitarist–which is probably why some of his fans have nicknamed him “the Hendrix of the bagpipes.” His band, which is rounded out by Stephanie Cadman (fiddle, step-dancing, vocals), Pancho Alvarez (medieval guitar) and Xurxo Nuñez (percussion), has great chemistry together. This is definitely something to discover if you haven’t yet done so. (Ernest Barteldes)

February 12 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000. 8pm, $10 suggested donation.

Preview: Maria Rita/City Winery

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Pop, Samba, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


Brazilian singer Maria Rita built her career doing her best to be outside the shadow of her late mother Elis Regina, a legendary performer in her own right whose career was cut short by a cocaine overdose. It was not an easy task, since Rita’s voice is incredibly similar to her mother’s. Over the years, she stayed away from Regina’s material while making inventive, jazz-inspired albums accompanied by a simple trio of piano, acoustic bass and drums (the exception was 2007’s “Samba Meu,” which was recorded with various percussive instruments added to the band.)

It was not until 2012 that she finally agreed to work on a project with Regina’s music in commemoration of the thirty year anniversary of her passing. “Viva Elis” was originally planned to be a limited five-performance engagement, but due to public demand it later evolved into a national tour and a CD and DVD entitled “Redescobrir.” The album covers her mother’s greatest hits played in arrangements close to the original recordings (the audience is heard cheering at the opening chords of tunes like “Como Nossos Pais” and “Águas de Março”) while some of the lesser-known songs were given a completely different treatment under the musical direction of her brother, arranger and producer João Marcelo Bôscoli. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Anthem For A New Day” by Helen Sung

Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »


On her ninth release as a bandleader, the Houston-born pianist and jazz composer encompasses various genres within the jazz format, kicking off the album with the uptempo original “Brother Thelonious,” a five-minute tour de force that is highlighted by an extended solo from bassist Reuben Rogers. She masterfully covers Chick Corea’s “Armando’s Rhumba” with the participation of master clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, who takes the lead for most of the song with his unmistakable licks. Duke Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” begins as a solo piece until she is joined by Rogers and drummer Samuel Torres, who take the tune into new heights via its complex arrangement and the bandleader’s accomplished piano work. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Sixteen Sunsets” by Jane Ira Bloom

Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDjane ira bloom

The soprano saxophone has a naturally sweet sound and probably because of this it is favored by many smooth jazz players like Dave Koz and Jay Beckenstein. Another notable player is New York-based educator and composer Jane Ira Bloom, whose “Sixteen Sunsets” (Outline) is a collection of ballads played through a contemporary jazz point of view. The album begins with a beautiful rendition of “For All We Know” in which the bandleader improvises around the melody with a subtle back-beat from her quartet, rounded out by Cameron Brown (bass), Matt Wilson (drums) and Dominic Fallacaro (piano). She blends Gershwin’s “Skyline” with “I Loves You Porgy” masterfully, and Fallacaro is featured in a gorgeous solo. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “The Morning After” by Najee

Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »


On Najee’s fifteenth solo release, the smooth jazz veteran takes us on a journey based on different international moods and the sounds inspired by the various locations where he has performed during his long career. “Shinjuku” (written in honor of the recently departed George Duke) is a funky theme in which the bandleader improvises freely on the flute, while “W 72 and Broadway” gives us a rare look at his straight-ahead jazz chops backed by an acoustic quartet. The bandleader also takes us to neo-soul territory with “In The Mood To Take It Slow,” an uptempo tune that features vocalist Meli’sa Morgan (known for her cover of Prince’s “Do Me Baby.”) Read the rest of this entry »