Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Global Sounds: Cuban Artists Take Chicago

Afro-Cuban, Festivals, Latin, World Music No Comments »
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Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club

By Gail Dee

Chicago’s music scene will make history as the stars align serendipitously to bring two of Cuba’s most famous musical acts in the same week: the legendary dance band Los Van Van and the Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club for its Adios Tour—not to mention the almost immediately following Festival Cubano.

Given the recent thaw in Cuban American political relations, people might soon forget the anticipatory thrill of being able to see authentic Cuban music live in the United States. Not so long ago, it was forbidden fruit. Club owners like Marguerite Horberg of HotHouse and Ray Quinn of Martyrs’ took chances bringing the music to us. Shows were picketed and frequently shut down amidst threats, protests and boycotts against the Cuban government by Cuban Americans. I remember the joy of listening to the lovely, romantic, traditional Cuban music called son montuno in 1997, when the “Buena Vista Social Club” album was released, and the excitement of seeing them all live on stage for the first time at the Chicago Theater. Cuban son (a style of music that combines the singing and guitar stylings of Spain with the rhythms and drumming of Africa) and other music by the Buena Vistans wasn’t actually popular in Cuba at the time—the songs represented the golden age of Cuba in the forties and fifties; still, for millions of English-speaking people the Spanish lyrics of “Candela” and “Chan Chan” became almost as recognizable as “I Want To Hold Your Hand.” The remaining handful of original members coming to Ravinia are now touring together for the final time. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Jessy Bulbo/Ruido Fest

Festivals, Hip-Hop, Latin, Rockabilly No Comments »

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Since the launch of her first acting role in the very visceral 2011 Mexican independent film, “El lenguaje de los machetes” (Machete Language), which also featured one of her poppier—though still altogether subversive— tracks, “Mi Muñequita Sintética” (My Synthetic Doll), we haven’t heard too much from the reigning queen of Mexican indie, Jessy Bulbo. If you know anything about Mexican indie punk music then you’re quite familiar with her often quaint vocals and more furious Riot Grrrl leanings. Her albums range from bassy rockabilly and roaring noise to her more recent experiments with electronic and hip-hop, and in fact her versatility and importance in the Mexican indie world are unmatched by any other artist. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Silverio/Ruido Fest

Electro, Festivals, Latin No Comments »

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There’s no concise way to describe the electro antics of Julian Lede, better known as the madcap Mexican artist Silverio. His self-proclaimed simple samples and often cajoling approach to electro dance might seem light years ahead to some fans, just plain odd and off-putting to other, more austere and prissy electro goers. Known for his rampant energy, notorious red bikini, glistening beer belly and sweat-drenched performances, Silverio mixes humor, dissonance and the crassest elements of Mexican popular culture into his music, as well as his persona. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: Irrepressible Rhythms from the African Diaspora

Afrobeat, Jazz, Latin, World Music 2 Comments »
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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 »

Offbeat: Cristina Pato Takes a Bagpipe “Voyage” and Bruce Tammen Pursues His “Passion”

Celtic, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Folk, Interviews, Jazz, Latin, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Pop, Vocal Music No Comments »
Christina Pato

Cristina Pato

By Dennis Polkow

Spanish bagpiper and pianist Cristina Pato realizes that there are lots of concertos for various solo instruments and orchestra out there—but bagpipes? “I don’t have the ability to be able to compose an orchestra piece,” she admits, “but I do have the ability to commission a composer and to open the interest of orchestras to play it.” Read the rest of this entry »

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 »