Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: Goran Ivanovic Trio

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

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Goran Ivanovic is a multiculti wunderkind. A Croatian-born Chicagoan, he plays nylon-string classical guitar, with which he not only unleashes great stampeding Balkan rhythms, but intricate Middle Eastern and Asian-inspired cadences as well. On his trio’s newly released eponymous disc, he’s accompanied by Matt Ulery on electric bass and Pete Tashjian on drums and percussion, with a special guest appearance by Ian Maksin on cello. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: A Double Shot of Chicago Jazz (and a Chaser)

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

There isn’t much you can say definitively about The 3.5.7 Ensemble. Depending on the material it’s tackling, it ranges from a trio to a quintet to a septet (hence the name). And though it’s based in Chicago, it’s not entirely a Chicago band; a number of its members hail from farther afield. One thing you can say with reasonable confidence is that these guys are hella ambitious ambitious. This isn’t just a comment on their material, which covers a dizzying spectrum of styles and voices; it’s also a reflection of the fact that some years into the era of downloads and streaming, they’ve gone all 1990s and released not just a CD, but a double CD. When was the last time you set eyes on that brand o’ critter?

Fortunately, the program well supports the extra disc. All the pieces on “Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples” are original (with the exception of the opener, “Dangurangu,” a Zimbabwean folk tune). Most are written by bassist Chris Dammann and tenor sax man Nick Anaya, but there are credits as well for guitarist Tim Stine and pianist Jim Baker, with improvised works credited to the entire ensemble (rounded out by James Davis on trumpet, Richard Zili on clarinet, and Dylan Andrews on drums). There’s also a credit for Fred Anderson, whose Velvet Lounge was the setting at which at least some of these pieces evolved into their current form. Read the rest of this entry »

South Side Jazz Coalition: From DuSable to Obama—by Way of Orbert Davis

Blues, Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »
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Orbert Davis/Photo: Darron Jones

By Corey Hall

Chicago’s origins and present, along with a festival’s rebirth, are celebrated by the South Side Jazz Coalition on January 16. That’s when Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) performs the score to “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis,” a documentary that first aired on WTTW in 2010 and won an Emmy Award. The Coalition’s second fundraising event is designed to raise funds for revitalizing the annual South Shore Jazz Festival, a thirty-one-year ritual that ended in 2012.

Now that the Coalition’s nonprofit status has been secured, it is attracting sponsors, determining a date, securing a lakefront location and selecting musicians for the revived festival, according to Coalition board member Margaret Murphy-Webb. This effort, she added, has been endorsed by Geraldine de Haas—the festival’s founder who, in 2013, relocated to the East Coast with her husband for health reasons—and surrounding communities.

“We expected 150 people at our first fundraiser, held last summer at the Quarry [in South Shore],” Murphy-Webb says. “We seated 180, and a total of 240 people showed up. This event on the sixteenth will seat 500, and we are urging people to get tickets early, because we don’t want to turn anybody away.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan/The Green Mill

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »

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If I could understand why certain music genres come into vogue, I’d be a very rich man. As it is, all I can do is marvel at the regularity with which the postmillennium throws us a cultural curve ball, like making a cult sensation of gypsy jazz—a style that hasn’t been much in vogue since Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli were hard at it, way back in the first half of the last century. But if you have any doubt that it’s returned with a vengeance, just insert yourself into the SRO crowd at The Green Mill on any given Wednesday night, when Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan hold court. Being shy of hyperbole, I balk at citing Ponticelli as Reinhardt’s and Grappelli’s heir, but goddammit, if he isn’t, who is? Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Ending 2015 On a High Note

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

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I can’t think of better auspices for the new year than the arrival, at the eleventh hour, of Charles Rumback’s “In The New Year.” The Chicago drummer has assembled a quintet of absolutely topflight local players (Caroline Davis on alto sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Jeff Parker on guitar and John Tate on bass) for a thrillingly diverse set of tunes—of which pride of place has to go to the title cut. “In the New Year” is just goddamn glorious. Davis and Stein wail mournfully—like it’s lights-up at the end of an epic New Year’s Eve bash, and they’re facing the first moments of January with soggy, sodden hangovers; meanwhile Parker strums in dreamy self-absorption, and Rumback himself races around the background, like a host trying to fetch up all the empty glasses before they leave rings on the furniture. There’s personality, there’s texture, there’s life itself percolating in this irresistible opening tune.

It’s followed by “Right Reasons,” which begins with a meditative bass line by Tate (with an occasional shimmering commentary by Rumback) that eventually relaxes into a space where Davis and Stein can gambol in and frolic. Rumback rolls alongside them in paternal approval as they romp gorgeously, until, inevitably, they begin to droop in exhaustion; it’s a lovely, spirited arc. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Atomic Ragtime and Radiant Folk, Chicago Style

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Folk, Folk-rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Record Store Day, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

I’m just a hair late to the party when it comes to “No Hotel,” the new album by Chicago’s own neo-vaudeville barnstormers, The Claudettes; but the album (which came out in September) is definitely one you should be spinning, streaming or otherwise ingesting whole. It’s the work of just three players—pianist Johnny Iguana, drummer Michael Caskey and (intermittently) vocalist Yana—but there’s enough energy going on to power your average Third World airport.

The opener, “Big Easy Women,” is full of a barreling, hyper-saloon piano banging, with a bridge that playfully evokes silent-movie peril. But it’s the second cut—“California, Here I Come”—that really makes you sit up and take notice. The Claudettes knock the hoary old Al Jolson tune into a minor key, transforming it into a wittily downbeat comment on the cruelty that so often accompanies the go-west-young-man dream. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Billy Strayhorn Lived a “Lush Life” Beyond Duke Ellington

Big Band, Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Vocal Music No Comments »
Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

Duke Ellington (left) and Billy Strayhorn

By Dennis Polkow

When Bruce Mayhall Rastrelli first came up with the idea of devoting an entire concert to the music of Billy Strayhorn more than a decade ago, the first question was often, “Billy who?”

“It was for a gay chorus that I directed for eight years in Los Angeles,” recalls Rastrelli, “and they had a tradition of doing single composer concerts: Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Jerry Herman. I wanted to move beyond doing composers that were obvious. I wanted to challenge the chorus and the community with things they didn’t know, specifically jazz, and especially a black composer who was out and gay at a time when that was not at all typical.”

Strayhorn is best known for his near thirty-year association with Duke Ellington, from the time they met in 1938 until Strayhorn’s early death from cancer in 1967 at the age of fifty-one. Often given direct credit, sometimes not, Strayhorn is estimated to have composed and arranged some forty percent of the entire Ellington catalogue and was, as Ellington himself put it in his autobiography, “my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brain waves in his head, and his in mine.” Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Horn of Not-Quite-Plenty

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
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Mark Farina

It’s always a bit of a challenge scoping out shows around Thanksgiving because it’s a time period that seems to be overlooked for live music. The presumption is that everyone is out of town and/or spending time with family for the weekend. For those “Thanksgiving orphans” that stick around, or plan to head home early, there’s some good live music to look forward to in the coming weeks, as well as a few unusual and non-performance-based music events that are worth checking out.

Metro offshoot Smart Bar (3730 North Clark), early home of Frankie Knuckles and launching pad for Ministry, is approaching middle age. To celebrate, on Friday, November 20, Smart Bar cleverly celebrates its “33 1/3 Anniversary” with an A-list lineup of DJs and taking up both the Smart Bar and Metro spaces. The show includes Mark Farina, Colette, DJ Heather, Justin Long, Michael Serafini and Garrett David. Tickets are $24 in advance, $30 at the door. The 21+ show starts at 10pm at Smart Bar, 11pm at Metro. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Strayhorn Fringe Festival/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

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This is Billy Strayhorn’s centenary, and it’s been heartening to see so much attention paid to a songwriter whose gifts are almost in inverse proportion to his fame—i.e. the former stratospheric, the latter microscopic. Part of the problem is that Strayhorn is so closely associated with Duke Ellington, who was one of the more flamboyantly extrovert of the past century’s geniuses. Another part is that Strayhorn himself was quite happy to reside in Ellington’s shadow. The result is that today people are surprised to learn that tunes indelibly associated with Ellington—such as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”—are in fact Strayhorn’s compositions. It’s hard for us to think of them in a new way; they’re so bonded to our DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Somi/The Promontory

Jazz, Live Reviews, Soul, World Music No Comments »

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Jazz has always been a meritocracy, in the sense that hooks matter more than looks. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a concentrated dose of oomph when it’s right there in front of us. Peggy Lee worked it. So did Nina Simone. And the New York singer-songwriter Somi (born in Illinois to Ugandan and Rwandan parents) has the same kind of high-voltage charisma. She also has an absolutely exquisite instrument—graceful, gorgeous and under her complete control. In the fifties, she’d have knocked ‘em dead in supper clubs; today, she’s slaughtering digitally, in ravishing videos like her simmering R&B ballad, “Ginger Me Slowly.”  Read the rest of this entry »