“The Stillness of Motion” opens with a guitar laying down a groove while a bassist takes the melody line. This is the reverse of how it’s usually done, and it’s a testament to Scott Hesse’s generosity and sense of ensemble. He’s one of Chicago’s most highly regarded guitarists, and yet in the first measures of his new record he gives the spotlight to a fellow player. Not that Clark Sommers, the player in question, requires charity; when Hesse steps back into the forefront, Sommers has no trouble maintaining his share of the musical dialogue. Ditto drummer Makaya McCraven, who manages to establish an intriguing voice of his own throughout the proceedings, especially on “Yardbird Sketch,” where he provides a percussive landscape as broad as a lawn, over which Hesse wanders searchingly, occasionally somersaulting into dreamily descending chords. Read the rest of this entry »
The long battle against the apartheid regime in South Africa, which culminated in Nelson Mandela’s election as president in 1994, was fought by the country’s musicians as well. Hugh Masekela and Vusi Mahlasela were two of the greatest; they helped give the movement its voice at a time when most of the world ignored the plight of the country’s blacks.
Masekela, whose career spans more than five decades, is known for his versatility as a flugelhornist and singer. Early in his career he worked primarily with jazz ensembles, but he also did a lot of session work with pop artists like The Byrds, and later toured with Paul Simon in support of his seminal album, “Graceland.” He is also the composer of “Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela),” which became the anthem for the movement calling for the release of the imprisoned activist. Read the rest of this entry »
On his debut recording as a bandleader, the Chicago-based pianist and trombonist showcases his versatility and stylistic dexterity on a CD that includes straight-ahead, Latin, contemporary, big band and light jazz. He is in the company of an impressive array of musicians, including Bobby Shew (trumpet and flugelhorn), Dave Hiltebrand (bass) and Paul Zimmerman (vocals). Though the music goes in various directions, it gives us an idea of where Cline has been over his long career as a sideman (he has played with R&B legends like Aretha Franklin and The Temptations, as well as led various bands while working for the Norwegian Cruise Lines). Read the rest of this entry »
By Corey Hall
In his imagination’s ear (earmagination?), tenor saxophonist Chris Greene hears this when Brazilian vocalist Ed Motta sings: “He sounds like what would happen if Chick Corea, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stevie Wonder had a baby, raised him in Brazil, and made him listen to Gamble and Huff records. He’s got this Teddy Pendergrass voice, but he sings in Portuguese. He has these elaborate Chris Cross-Steely Dan arrangements, and he can get super funky, too.”
To honor this musical love child, Greene and his quartet—which includes pianist Damian Espinosa, bassist Marc Piane and drummer Steve Corley—recorded Motta’s tune “Papuera” for their independently produced double CD, “Music Appreciation,” their eighth album in ten years. The title is a reference to a sound bite from the seventies sitcom ‘What’s Happening!!,’ in which Raj, the lead character, tutors an athlete. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »