Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: A Hard-Swinging Suite from Nick Mazzarella Trio

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »


Chicagoan Nick Mazzarella plays alto sax with the kind of virile swagger that yanks you back through the decades to when this kind of strident, unsentimental sound split the whole goddamn twentieth century clean in two. It’s still surprisingly subversive to modern ears—which is why a lot of people run from this kind of fearlessly improvised jazz; it’s not safe—it’s here to challenge, not comfort. And on its new record, “Ultraviolet,” that’s exactly what Mazzarella’s trio does. The tunes were originally composed for a residency at the late, lamented Curio lounge in 2012, and they form a breathtaking free-jazz suite. All the titles relate to scientific inquiry—from the modern (“Neutron Star”) to the archaic (“Abacus and Astrolabe,” “Luminous Dials”), and from wave theory (the title cut) to paleontology (“Archaeopteryx,” “Fossil”). It’s a pretty clear indication that what these guys are about is straight-up investigation—of rhythm, of tone, of harmony—and that silos like classification aren’t going to get in their way.  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.


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: Sinatra Jr. Is Perfectly Frank on the Man Behind the Legend

Big Band, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Vocal Music No Comments »
Frank Sinatra Jr.

Frank Sinatra Jr.

By Dennis Polkow

“There is a lot of traffic out there in this kind of show for this year,” admits Frank Sinatra Jr. on the myriad of Sinatra salutes happening throughout 2015, the centennial of his father’s birth. “Many, many people have taken it upon themselves to do this kind of thing. They can, of course, recreate the music. But because this is the one-hundredth anniversary, I felt it was very important that people also learn something about the individual.

“We’re no longer talking about a man who is a famous performer, a famous movie star. Now we’re talking about somebody who is being time-honored with a century of recognition. For that reason, I think it’s time to know that person. We already know his accomplishments, now let’s concentrate on the person.”

From the beginning of his own career some fifty years ago, Frank Jr. always performed “at least a song or two of Sinatra,” as he calls the public figure, “but I worked hard to have my own identity.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Fred Hersch Trio/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »



Jazz Fest ambles into town the first weekend of September, and as usual there’s a sense of having waited for the larger and noisier summer festivals to yield the lakefront in exhaustion, so that the grownups can move in and get down to the serious business of making serious music. Among the many highlights will be Friday’s appearance by composer/pianist Fred Hersch, whose latest CD release is a solo outing (entitled, rather unenterprisingly, “Solo”) that’s garnering ecstatic reviews from the cognoscenti. But for Jazz Fest he’ll be heading up his trio, which includes bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen in Time: Scott Hesse Trio Brings Stirring “Stillness” to Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, Record Reviews No Comments »

The Trio, 5-13-15

By Corey Hall

Envision the Aqua Tower, 225 North Columbus Drive, on its side in black and white. This image could be in motion but is actually frozen in time with a watery, wave-like feel, as created through photographer Scott Hesse’s lens. This image—complete with color and complementary crop by a graphic designer–is the cover art for Hesse’s trio’s new album, “The Stillness of Motion,” whose CD release party is on August 14 at Constellation.

Hesse, a Chicago-based jazz guitarist who has performed with Greg Ward, Dee Alexander and Ernest Dawkins, among many others, believes that recording music is similar to documenting life through photography. “This music is very fluid and always changing, but when you capture it on a recording, it freezes moments in time, like what happens in a picture,” says Hesse, who is joined on the album by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Makaya McCraven. “You can definitely hear the movement and evolutions taking place… but it’s never going to be that way again.” Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Music Legends: Kurt Elling

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

This is the first in a series of profiles of Chicagoans who have enriched both the city’s and the country’s musical life. Succeeding entries will appear on an irregular basis.

Every baritone jazz singer has to stand comparison to Frank Sinatra, whose shadow looms over them so unremittingly, you want to take pity and just equip them all with miners’ helmets. And it’s true that in terms of sheer tonal beauty, Kurt Elling—the bari-jazzman of the moment—doesn’t quite match his famous forebear. Elling’s wiry, scrappy, middleweight-boxer of a voice, marked (or marred, depending on your point of view) by the occasional flatness of Chicago vowel sounds (he was born here in 1967), is an entirely different animal from Sinatra’s opulent, resonant, cello-like instrument. Sinatra’s voice is all roundness and legato; Elling’s, at its most characteristic, is serrated and staccato.

And yet the way in which Elling doesn’t quite measure up to Sinatra pales into insignificance next to the many ways in which he surpasses him. Elling’s range is an astonishing four octaves, double that of Sinatra’s, and his boundless facility for improvising is so far beyond anything Sinatra ever exhibited, there aren’t even analogous samples to set side by side for comparison. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: South Side Jazz Coalition/Quarry Event Center

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »
Margaret three

Margaret Murphy-Webb


To honor the late tenor saxophonist Von Freeman and his Tuesday night, jam-till-the-early-moanin’ blowing sessions, vocalist Margaret Murphy-Webb and instrumentalist Anderson Edwards started the Jazz Jam Revival at the 50 Yard Line on East 75th, about half a mile west of where Vonski hosted his séances of sound. Now, some three years later, with the Revival still going strong, Murphy and the newly formed South Side Jazz Coalition (SSJC) are determined to reestablish another local tradition: the South Shore Jazz Festival, originally presented by Geraldine de Haas’ Jazz Unites from 1981 to 2012, and held at the South Shore Cultural Center. (De Haas and her husband relocated to New Jersey in 2013 to be with their children.) “The South Shore Jazz Festival was a tradition for Southeast Chicago and the southern suburbs,” says Murphy-Webb. “Everybody came out for this festival. It was just a wonderful time with all the cookouts, vendors and great music.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: lePercolateur/The Green Mill

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »



I used to love catching lePercolateur at the old Katerina’s on Irving Park. There was something about that narrow, dark-paneled room that struck me as faintly European—with its stage tucked modestly between the bar and the kitchen, so that every performance was infiltrated by tinkling ice on one side and swinging doors on the other (which on a good night always seemed to be in time). And lePercolateur is all about the continent. The band owes its chief inspiration to the gypsy jazz pioneered by Belgian guitarist Django Reinhardt—that is, everyone in the band but vocalist Candace Washburn, whose Gallic sophistication owes more to cafes than campgrounds (you can’t imagine anyone for whom the term “chanteuse” is more appropriate). Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: A Freeman Family Affair, the Affairs of Natalie Myre

Alt-Country, Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »


By Robert Rodi

There are few musicians more fondly remembered in Chicago than tenor sax giant Von Freeman, who died in 2012. So when Freeman’s son, Chico, also a sax man, and brother George, a celebrated guitarist, came together to record for the first time, it was hard to avoid invoking Von’s memory… especially since they chose to call the album “All In the Family.” (Titling one of the cuts “Vonski” didn’t help, either.) But beyond the nod to their late relative’s legacy, the two surviving Freemans manage to make the music entirely their own. Comprising all-original compositions (with the exception of the haunting standard “Angel Eyes,” plus a smattering of very short improvised pieces that serve almost as amuse-bouches between the more substantial tunes), “All In the Family” plays like an intergenerational conversation between George’s burnished, impeccable guitar and Chico’s deft and energetic sax. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Irrepressible Rhythms from the African Diaspora

Afrobeat, Jazz, Latin, World Music 2 Comments »

Seun Kuti / Photo: Johann Sauty

By Gail Dee

What a conundrum that the vast majority of western music enjoyed today—rock ’n’ roll, blues, jazz and hip-hop—has roots in African music spread through suffering. Slavery’s tentacles stretched wide. This cultural diaspora isn’t limited to the U.S. and Caribbean, but extends to Mexico (with Son Jarocho), Colombia (with cumbia and champeta), Peru, Brazil and Uruguay. Even the Argentine tango has its origins in the African slave trade, though Argentina itself is often considered a European (i.e. culturally white) country. The story is told in the film “Tango Negro: The African Roots of Tango” on June 18 at Facets Multimedia (1517 West Fullerton, 8pm, $9).

And the story doesn’t stop there. Like a snake consuming its own tail, the funky soul of James Brown, the acid rock of Jimi Hendrix, the cool jazz of Miles Davis and salsa from New York City then traveled back across the Atlantic and influenced popular music throughout Africa.

This summer, an abundance of exceptional African and Afro-Latin music comes to Chicago, bringing opportunities to check out the amazing diversity of the Afro-musical melting pot. And don’t assume the sound is all about drums; jazzy horns, electric guitars and electronica also prominently propel the dance rhythms. It’s going to be one heck of a hot, sexy summer. Read the rest of this entry »