Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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

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

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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 »

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 »

Polana Polymath: Prolific Polish Performer Anna Maria Jopek Brings Her Show to Chicago on Her First Stateside Tour

Bossa Nova, Folk, Interviews, Jazz, Vocal Music No Comments »

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By Ernest Barteldes

Though not quite a household name for American audiences, Anna Maria Jopek (pronounced YO-pek) is one of the most prolific and eclectic performers in adult contemporary Polish music. From her début album “Ale Jestem” (Universal, 1997), she has explored various musical nuances, going from classical Polish to jazz and various genres in between, including Brazilian, Portuguese and even a recent incursion into Asian sounds via her collaboration with Japanese pianist Makoto Ozone on the 2011 self-produced album “Haiku,” which could be described as a sonic blend between Polish and Japanese musical sensibilities.

Over her decade and a half career, she has worked with many well-known musicians including Branford Marsalis, bassists Christian McBride and Richard Bona, Ivan Lins and late bossa nova pioneer Oscar Castro-Neves. “Upojenie” (Nonesuch, 2008) recorded with Pat Metheny and her sole album available in the US market, is arguably one of her best works yet—a combination of original material and reimagined Metheny tunes with Polish-language lyrics specially written for the project. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ana Tijoux/Subterranean

Latin, Rap, World Music No Comments »

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Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux has been quite busy of late—just in 2014 she collaborated with the likes of Julieta Venegas, Oscar-winner Jorge Drexler and many others while embarking on a massive tour that included stops at Millennium Park and the Latin Alternative Music Conference in New York. Her sound blends North and Latin American influences—she has a solid band that includes guitars, percussion, keys and drums. In addition, her backup singers are also skilled MCs who have the chops to share many of the tunes, freestyling whenever there is space to do so. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Miguel Zenon/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Latin No Comments »

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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: Los Lonely Boys/Thalia Hall

Alt-Rock, Latin, Pop, Rock, Tejano, World Music No Comments »

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As one of the few Latin-bred rock bands to make it into the mainstream rock scene, the three siblings of this power trio sure have made strides. On one of their first major tours, they teamed up with legendary Mexican-American band Los Lobos—with bassist Jojo Garza pulling double duty by performing in both bands, who would come together at the end of every set for an extended jam. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Lila Downs/House of Blues

Cumbia, Latin, Regional Mexican, Son, Tejano, World Music No Comments »

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The first time I saw Lila Downs was about a decade ago, when she was participating in a Latin American-themed evening and she shared the bill with a Brazilian singer. She was still riding the wave of exposure brought on by her participation in the 2002 movie “Frida,” in which she played an unnamed singer whose tunes wove key elements of the plot together up to the very end, when she was joined by Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso for the Academy Award-nominated “Burn It Blue.”

On that show, she came on stage playing a two-sided drum that set the pace for the set, which exuded energy from beginning to end, and I was hooked. Her strong voice and charisma on stage had me from the first song, and I have been following her music ever since. During her sets, she always celebrates her heritage, often including songs in regional Mexican dialects alongside original and traditional Mexican tunes. 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 »

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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: “From Brazil to New Orleans” by Charlie Dennard

Forró, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

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“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Jobim Tribute” by Les Sabler

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

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Among Brazilian composers recognized internationally, you could certainly say that Antônio Carlos Jobim compares to none other so far—he is one of the few whose body of work is just as respected as that of Gershwin or Harold Arlen. However, few contemporary fans know his work beyond “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” “Desafinado” or maybe “Waters of March” simply because his other songs have been absent from jazz songbooks of late. Read the rest of this entry »