Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: Girl Power plus IQ from Honey & the 45s, Elaine Dame

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

HoneyandThe45s

By Robert Rodi

In the last twenty-five years, women in music have made tremendous strides, building bodies of work that showcase the kind of empowerment, control and sexual bravado that would’ve been unimaginable just a few decades earlier. But for all their power and strength, they rarely manage to project intellect—the quality of being aware of themselves in context; of understanding not just who they are, but what they mean.

Thankfully, we’re beginning to see some cracks in that particular glass ceiling. And one Chicago-native, female-fronted alt-rock band is most definitely doing its part. Honey & the 45s’ new EP, “Mad,” features seven songs that all turn standard love-and-longing narratives on their heads—starting with the title cut, which is a razor-sharp dissection of a woman’s attraction-repulsion complex, in the form of a long screed directed at the guy in the equation. “I hate that you know me, you know me so well,” sings front woman Kristina Cottone, “I hate that you caught me before I fell.” With lyrics like that, you know you’re in fairly literary hands. 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: 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 »

Record Review: “Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin” by Deanna Witkowski

Bossa Nova, Chicago Artists, Classical, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews No Comments »

DEANNA_1.indd

RECOMMENDED

On the solo piano “Raindrop,” Witkowski, a former Chicago jazzer, approaches Chopin’s music from a creative point of view—not so much reverent as playful. She begins with a straight take on the downtempo Romantic piece “Nocturne in E-Flat Major,” employing her classical training to convey her interpretation, rather than relying on embellishments. But immediately afterward she launches into “Walking the Labyrinth,” an original composition inspired by the nocturne and created on the spot—a complete improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Chicago Music 2015—You Read it Here

Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Neo-soul, Post-metal No Comments »
sidewalkchalk

Sidewalk Chalk

By Keidra Chaney
While recapping the musical highlights of the past year is satisfying, looking forward to the new year is even more fun. Speculation always runs rampant, but the great thing is never knowing what to expect from new bands, new shows, new trends. Sometimes the next big thing in Chicago music comes out of nowhere, or an older favorite manages to surprise. And of course, in Chicago, we approach the upcoming summer concert festival season like it’s a basketball draft. So yes, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2015. Here are a few January shows to start off the year right, along with a few unscientific predictions about what to expect in Chicago music for the new year. Or maybe it’s just a wish list. You decide.
Apparently January is a good month for anniversaries, and there are two pretty significant ones coming up at Metro (3730 North Clark). Chicago’s pride, Bloodshot Records, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary on January 10 with an impressive lineup: folk-rocker Ben Kweller, Lydia Loveless (wasn’t she just in town?), alt-country local Jon Langford, Bobby Bare Jr., and Nashville six-piece Banditos.  The 18+ show is $21 and starts at 7pm. On January 30, post-metal trio Russian Circles comes home for their tenth-anniversary tour. I’ve been a huge fan of the band since their 2008 full-length release “Station,” and their acclaim seems to increase with each passing year. I never thought I’d see the band (or any heavy local band, honestly) play Millennium Park, and yet last summer’s show at Pritzker Pavilion was one of my favorites of an already impressive summer. This is a better time than any to check out the band, as they’ve promised a lineup of “special guests” for their hometown. If you haven’t seen them live, you’re running out of excuses. The 18+ show is $18/$20 d.o.s., and starts at 9pm. Prediction: We may finally see Chicago heavy music get its due in more mainstream circles.

Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: New Philharmonic Revels in a Viennese New Year’s Eve; Roy Hargrove Clubs it for the Holidays

Afro-Cuban, Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
New Year's Eve with the New Philharmonic

New Year’s Eve with the New Philharmonic

By Dennis Polkow

Ringing in the New Year with the New Philharmonic has become such a popular tradition in the western suburbs that this December 31, the College of DuPage-based professional orchestra is adding a third pops concert at its newly renovated concert hall, the McAninch Arts Center.

“The tradition began as an experiment,” explains New Philharmonic music director Kirk Muspratt. “People are always looking for something to do on New Year’s Eve, so my feeling was that we should try a classy event, something very intelligent and fun, using the Vienna Philharmonic New Year’s concerts as a model.”

The nine o’clock debut concert sold out so quickly that a second five o’clock concert was added the following year. “We tried offering two concerts for three or four years,” says Muspratt, “but we were still always leaving two-hundred people out in the cold waiting for tickets.” Thus, the thought to add a third concert this year, at one o’clock in the afternoon.

Muspratt admits that what began as a Vienna template has evolved into something far more eclectic. “I went to school in Vienna at the Conservatory, so am very at home in that tradition. We originally did light classical: some Lehár, some Johann Strauss, maybe some Rossini. Little by little, as the audience responded to new things, the thinking broadened and it was like, ‘Let’s have a little French twist,’ and we’d add some Saint-Saëns. Then we began doing some American things that were very well received. People like the mix, the variety and it has evolved into a pastiche of music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Renée Fleming Reaches Out From Opera, Blind Boys Modernize Their Message

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Rock, Vocal Music No Comments »
Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade

Renée Fleming with KISS at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade

By Dennis Polkow

It’s a busy holiday season for the “People’s Diva,” Renée Fleming: not only has the soprano released her first-ever Christmas album, “Christmas in New York” (Decca), but PBS has produced a television special on the making of the album. As if that weren’t enough, Fleming sang at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and is opening a new production of “The Merry Widow” at the Metropolitan Opera on New Year’s Eve, with Lyric Opera music director Sir Andrew Davis at the podium.

Christmas itself, however, Fleming admits, will remain a family affair. “My whole family sings like crazy,” says Fleming. “When we decorate the tree, my daughters and I have a major impromptu scat-singing festival.” It’s this spirit that informs the eclectic approach of “Christmas in New York,” on which Fleming performs with guest artists Wynton Marsalis, Gregory Porter, Kelli O’Hara, Chris Botti, Brad Mehldau, Rufus Wainwright and Chicago jazz singer Kurt Elling.

For those expecting a killer rendition of “O Holy Night” or “Ave Maria,” think again. “That was my expectation as well,” laughs Fleming. “I just assumed when I would finally do a Christmas album, it would be that Karajan-Vienna Philharmonic-Leontyne Price template. But this came together in a different way and Universal had a different idea about it.

“I stayed away from carols for the most part, except for ‘Stille, Stille, Stille.’ I also went to my collaborators and said, ‘What would you like to do?’ I took their lead in many cases. Since this took about nine months to really finish up, I worried for a while about it coming together in a way that would make it feel like a whole, but it did. There was enough variety on it to enable it to have that sense of different things coming together.” Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Power Pop from My My My, Purring Swing from Rose Colella

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

By Robert Rodi

mymymy-tigersonthedancefloor

Let a hundred-thousand critics give their thoughts on My My My and there’s still one phrase you’ll never read: “stripped-down.” On the night I most recently saw them (November 21 at Double Door, the release party for their new album, “Tigers On the Dance Floor”) there were nine performers on the stage. Their sound—beautifully reproduced on the album—features complex rhythms, multilayered harmonies and a thick synth frosting; yet there’s nothing bloated or mannered or self-conscious about it. This is downright muscular pop music: driven, delirious and out for a goddamn good time.

The band is fronted by two vocalists, Russell Baylin and Sarah Snow, who also write all the lyrics. The music itself is a collaborative effort on the part of the entire group, which includes Ante Gelo on guitar and string synth, Jake Bartolone on bass and Moog, John Sorensen on drums, and John Szymanski on keys and percussion. The only members who don’t seem to do double duty are the backup vocalists, a.k.a. The Peoples, unless you count looking lethally glam while they sing as double duty.

Baylin and Snow are a great match: he growls, she howls, and in their solo numbers their sheer sonic majesty makes you stand up and take notice. But when they duet (as in “Sirens of Soft Persuasion”) they can lift you right off the floor and dangle you there. The tunes are incredibly polished and stuffed with so many hooks they’re like harmonic velcro. A few of them—like “Bleeding” and “When We Kiss”—perform that rarest feat of pop alchemy: sounding utterly fresh and yet also giving you the impression you’ve known and loved them for years—that they’re already bonded to your DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Epic Holiday Treats from Turin, Joey DeFrancesco and Music of the Baroque

Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Orchestral, Vocal Music No Comments »
Gianandrea Noseda

Gianandrea Noseda

By Dennis Polkow

For the first time, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater is presenting an opera independent from Chicago Opera Theater, a mainstay of the venue since it opened more than a decade ago. The one-night-only event features a rare, complete concert performance of Rossini’s “William Tell” by Teatro Regio Torino (Turin, Italy), in the company’s North American debut. This is the first time an Italian opera house will tour a complete opera in North America. Chicago is one of only four stops on the tour, which also includes Carnegie Hall. Baritone Luca Salsi sings the title role, with soprano Angela Meade as Matilde and tenor John Osborn as Arnoldo. The Teatro Regio Torino orchestra and chorus is conducted by the company’s music director, Gianandrea Noseda, who was just chosen as Musical America’s 2015 Conductor of the Year.

“Grazie,” says Noseda, congratulated by phone in Munich, where at press time he was guest conductor at the Bavarian State Orchestra. Ironically, although Noseda’s season-long engagements with Teatro Regio Torino were never in question, reports had surfaced that he’d stepped aside as music director due to highly publicized artistic differences with the company’s general manager. “I am still there,” he reassures me. He calls the mutual striving for both sides to come to an understanding “a work in progress,” and adds, “There are new people coming in [to the company], who I think will make all the difference. We will find our way. At least that is my wish, my hope.” 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 »