Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: The Lightness of Lyric and the Density of ICE

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

By Dennis Polkow

Since 2013, flutist and International Contemporary Ensemble founder and artistic director Claire Chase has been on active search of a new “Density,” a reference to Edgard Varèse’s 1936 seminal flute piece “Density 21.5” (the title referred to the density of platinum, a premium flute material) a revolutionary piece of music that “forever changed the definition of the flute, humankind’s oldest instrument.”

Chase is looking to have commissioned and premiered the twenty-first-century equivalent of “Density” before the work’s centennial in 2036, at which time Chase will be fifty-eight. Chase’s search thus far has led her to offer world premieres of more then one-hundred new works for flute, many written specifically for her.

“Density 2036: part ii” presents a seventy-minute program of new works for flute and electronics (Levy Lorenzo, engineer) by George Lewis, Matthias Pintscher, Felipe Lara, Mario Diaz de León and Du Yun as Chase offers her first solo performance as Northwestern University’s Bienen School’s Institute for New Music’s 2014-15 resident artist. At $8 a ticket ($5 for students with ID) and with Varèse’s “Density” included as a finale along with a post-concert Q&A with Chase, that is a density deal. November 5, 7:30pm, Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place, Evanston, (847)467-4000.

Lyric Laughs at Its Age
November 1, 1954 was the date that Lyric Theatre of Chicago, later Lyric Opera of Chicago, came into being and the company is celebrating with a one-night-only all-star 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball on the actual anniversary date. The tone looks to be light and celebratory rather than the more formal affair that commemorated the company’s fiftieth anniversary a decade ago, since which some key company figures and artists associated with Lyric’s early years have passed away.

Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, who plays coach Sue Sylvester on the television series “Glee,” will serve as master of ceremonies and Second City will present a series of skits across the evening. Renée Fleming will traverse “Over the Rainbow” with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis as accompanist and Eric Owens will sing “Ol’ Man River.”

Sir Andrew Davis will lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and members and alumni of the Ryan Opera Center as well as a roster that includes Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka and Amber Wagner. (Previously announced Sondra Radvanovsky and Samuel Ramey will not be appearing.) Tickets for the concert only start at $75 and all concert-goers receive a hardbound copy of the commemorative book, “60 Lyric Moments.” 6:30pm, November 1, Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker, (312)332-2244.

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Beyond the Aria: J’nai Bridges with Craig Terry/Photo: Marcin Cymmer.

Journeys of the Voice
Harris Theater Presents, in conjunction with Lyric Opera’s Lyric Unlimited, has inaugurated an innovative new season-long vocal concert series called “Beyond the Aria.” The series is an outgrowth of Harris’ Tenth Anniversary Gala last fall when Harris president and managing director Michael Tiknis asked Ryan Opera Center director Craig Terry how Harris might collaborate with Lyric or the Ryan Center.

“What we ended up with was something that combined both,” says Terry, the curator, artistic advisor and accompanist of the series. Each concert spotlights two internationally known opera singers concurrently performing in Lyric Opera productions, appearing alongside of a current member of the Ryan Center.

The debut of the series featured soprano Ana María Martínez, baritone Bo Skovhus and Ryan Center mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges singing a wide range of genres including zarzuela, opera, lieder, operetta, chansons, jazz, Broadway and songs from the American songbook and featured cabaret-style seating with table service on the enclosed stage of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.

“I asked that everyone love the songs that they sing,” says Terry, “and we wanted the experience to be more relaxed than a regular concert hall. I had played on the Pritzker stage and it really is the perfect space: the idea is the rare pleasure to hear really great singers up close and personal in an intimate space.”

The next “Beyond the Aria” program features mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Azucena in the company’s current “II Trovatore”), baritone Quinn Kelsey (Count di Luna in “II Trovatore”) and Ryan Center soprano Laura Wilde. November 10, 7:30pm Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777, from $35.

Soumik Datta

Soumik Datta

East and West
East meets West in Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s eclectic evening of classical and contemporary Indian music and dance called “Mirror of Enlightenment” that includes “Mara,” an enlightenment tale that depicts the life of the Buddha performed by Chicago-based Indian classical dance company Kalapriya Dance.

Twenty-five Fulcrum Point musicians will merge Messiaen and Mingus with Indian composer Param Vir to present the U.S. premiere of Vir’s “Raga Fields, Concerto for Sarod and Ensemble” featuring British-Bengali sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta as soloist.

Tabla master and Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak will collaborate with sarod player Datta and Fulcrum Point founder/conductor/trumpeter Stephen Burns for the improvisational work “Rageshri” and will perform his own work  joined by his own ensemble, the Jazz Mata Trio. The program will conclude with Shirish Korde’s “Lalit,” a duet for flute and tabla featuring Pathak and Fulcrum Point flutist Mary Stolper. November 1, 7:30pm, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. $20 ($10 for students).

Notable Excursions
Guitarist extraordinaire John Abercrombie will perform with his revised quartet, which includes pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron, the same personnel on Abercrombie’s latest album, “39 Steps.” Abercrombie and Copland were both members of the Chico Hamilton Quartet and the fusion jazz-rock group Dreams back in the 1970s, but both have returned to more straight-ahead jazz as this group reflects. October 30-November 2, Jazz Showcase, 806 South Plymouth, (312)360-0234, from $20.

Attempting to fuse arts, science and culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the object of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” with the Canadian period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. Narration, choreography and music by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel will be performed to a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope. November 7, 7:30pm, University of Chicago’s Logan Center, 915 East 60th, (773)702-2787, $35 ($5 students with ID).

Newberry Consort’s “Música Barocca Mexicana” features eighteenth-century music of the New World for voices, violins, guitar, theorbo, harpsichord and cello reconstructed as performed at the cathedral in Durango, one of Mexico’s important music centers. Newly discovered masterpieces are included with many U.S. premieres of works by Ignacio Jerusalem, Santiago Billoni, Manuel de Sumaya and others. November 7-9, various locales, (773)669-7335, from $35.

Following up on its traversal of a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle two years ago and a complete Bartók string quartet cycle last season, this year the gifted and energetic Avalon Quartet is performing a complete Brahms string quartet cycle at the Art Institute. This exquisite Sunday afternoon series includes other pieces that influenced—or have been influenced by—Brahms, followed by illuminating gallery walks that tie together revolutions in music, painting and sculpture. Brahms Quartet No. 3, Op. 67 in B-flat Major and the Debussy Quartet are the pairings in this second of a four-concert season-long series. November 9, 2pm, Fullerton Hall, 111 South Michigan, (312)443-3600, free with museum admission.

A Neighborhood Celebration of Sound: A Preview of the Englewood Jazz Festival

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »
Ernest Dawkins

Ernest Dawkins

By Corey Hall

For fifteen consecutive years, Englewood resident Ernest Dawkins has coordinated a free, six-hour outdoor celebration of sound as a contribution to his community. This celebration, officially called the Englewood Jazz Festival, is sponsored by the Live the Spirit Residency, a nonprofit organization Dawkins founded in 2006. He presented the first three Englewood Jazz Festivals through a grant from nonprofit Meet the Composer (now called New Music USA) and, when this grant ended, Dawkins supported the next three festivals with his own funds before establishing Live the Spirit.

“This community has multiple economic difficulties and has been ignored by the arts community for too long,” Dawkins said in a recent conversation. “I did this festival to try and institutionalize the music and arts in this underserved community and, in the future, I plan to branch out to Roseland or the West Side. I want this to get bigger.” Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “From Sassy to Divine: The Sarah Vaughan Project” by Ann Hampton Callaway

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Vocal Music No Comments »

callawaysassy300RECOMMENDED

On her live tribute to Sarah Vaughan recorded at New York’s Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the Chicago-born singer, composer and arranger (known by the general public for the theme of the popular sitcom “The Nanny”) assembled a topnotch band formed by  Ted Rosenthal (piano), Dean Johnson (bass), Tim Horner (drums), Randy Sandke (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Dick Oatts (saxes and flute). The repertoire included tunes that Vaughan recorded throughout her long career.

The disc opens after a brief introduction with a lively rendition of Al Hoffman’s “I’m Gonna Live ‘Till I Die,” which features a lengthy, highly inspired solo from Sandke (incidentally, Hoffman was the composer of “Bear Down, Chicago Bears”). Steven Sondheim’s “Send In The Clowns” is played with great dramatic flair, a little reminiscent of Barbra Streisand’s version. Also notable are Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “Wave” performed in a downtempo bossa style and Adler/Rose “Whatever Lola Wants,” a sexy blues-tinged number that showcases the vocalist’s improvisations, while George Gershwin’s classic ballad “Someone To Watch Over Me” features its often-ignored introduction. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Steve Dawson’s Funeral Bonsai Wedding/Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz No Comments »

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RECOMMENDED

Chicago singer-songwriter Steve Dawson’s main band is Dolly Varden, which has been making smart and soulful folk-rock for twenty years, but he has a second group now. His new album, due for release on September 30, is the self-titled debut of Steve Dawson’s Funeral Bonsai Wedding, a collaboration with three local jazz musicians who are noted for their inventiveness: vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz, drummer Frank Rosaly and bassist Jason Roebke. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Miguel Zenon/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Latin No Comments »

zenonquartet

RECOMMENDED

Though a longtime resident of the East Coast, saxophonist, professor and bandleader Miguel Zenón never quite let go of the rhythms of his native Puerto Rico, and often incorporates their sounds from a contemporary jazz point of view. Over a decade working as a bandleader (he has done side work with the likes of Edsel Gomez, Brian Lynch and Edmar Castañeda) with his quartet, he has explored and experimented with various rhythms and grooves and developed them as a fodder for free improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Kermit Ruffins & The Barbecue Swinger/Evanston Space

Blues, Genre, Jazz No Comments »

Kermit RuffinsRECOMMENDED

If you cannot be in Crescent City, listening to veteran trumpeter and singer Kermit Ruffins definitely takes you there. With his sharp and lively tone, he plays songs that celebrate his homeland. Examples include “Drop Me Off in New Orleans” and “When I Die, You Better Second Line.” He is clearly not one to do any contemporary-style material—his sound embodies the early traditions of jazz  laid out by Louis Armstrong, who is revered and celebrated today from the park that takes his name to the streets where marching bands that play year-round to the delights of locals and visitors alike. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things/Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz No Comments »

mikereedRECOMMENDED

If there is anyone whose musical direction should be trusted, it’s Mike Reed. As the director of the Pitchfork Music Festival and an important part of the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Umbrella Music Festival, Reed is well versed on Chicago jazz and beyond. His group, Mike Reed’s People, Places & Things, is a conglomerate of Chicago jazz and where it’s going. Free jazz can be difficult to follow for the casual listener, but Mike Reed’s People, Places, & Things is an approachable place to start.  Read the rest of this entry »

Swept-Up by the Songbook: Bobby Broom Brings the Past, Present

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »
Photo: John Broughton

Photo: John Broughton

By Corey Hall

Are y’all hip to “Sweet Georgia Brown”? According to the grapevine, “It’s been said/she knocks ‘em dead/when she lands in town/Since she came/why it’s a shame/how she cools them down!” Satchmo sang about her, as did Ella, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis. And now jazz guitarist Bobby Broom and his trio have made a play for the gray gal on “My Shining Hour,” his new album that will be released on August 19.

When talking to Newcity about this song, written in 1925, and recording—which he describes as a tribute to Americana—Broom notes that its ten songs have stayed relevant through many decades. “They’re classics, and they are cultural pieces, cultural history in music, at least from my perspective,” he says, in reference to the collection’s songs, which also includes “The Jitterbug Waltz,” “Tennessee Waltz,” and “Oh! Lady Be Good.”

When discussing “Sweet Georgia Brown,” Broom recalls a special moment 4:15 in from bassist Dennis Carroll. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bebel Gilberto and Chucho Valdés & The Afro-Cuban Messengers/Ravinia

Afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova, Festivals, Jazz, Latin, World Music No Comments »

folderRECOMMENDED

On her current tour, New York-born Brazilian singer-songwriter Bebel Gilberto is going in a completely different direction. Instead of playing familiar hits and a few new tunes, she is doing the opposite: most of the tunes on her recent sets have included tunes from “Tudo,” an album that has yet to hit stores as of this writing. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Sketches of Spain [Revisited]” by Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble

Big Band, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDChicago Jazz Phil Cover

“Sketches of Spain” is a masterful collaboration by Miles Davis and Gil Evans that has been deconstructed, imitated and recreated by countless musicians over the years, but few have had the audacity to create a new adaptation that would include new material arranged for a philharmonic orchestra. But Chicago-born trumpeter, composer and arranger Orbert Davis (no relation to Miles) stepped up to the plate with a fantastic take on the classic.

The album begins with a seventeen-minute version of “Concierto de Aranjuez” that is faithful to Evans’ original arrangement but completely revisited for an orchestra format. The bandleader performs an accomplished solo that does not copy Miles Davis’ take but retains many of its sonic elements. Read the rest of this entry »