Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Chicago Jazz Philharmonic at Ten, Pierre Boulez at Ninety

Big Band, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral No Comments »
Orbert Davis

Orbert Davis

By Dennis Polkow

“When we started, the world knew me only as a jazz trumpet player,” admits Orbert Davis, the founder and artistic director of the sixty-piece Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, which celebrates its tenth anniversary this season. “Even the musicians were like, ‘What is he going to do, standing up there? He’s not a conductor!’ When we did our first recording, some of the sub musicians looked around and said, ‘Who wrote this?’ ‘I did!’ ”

Davis’ vision of a full-scale “third stream” ensemble has evolved over the past decade. “We think of the first stream, which is classical, and the second stream, which is jazz, but it’s difficult to understand how they come together; we tend to think of what keeps them apart.” Originally the orchestra featured both classical and jazz musicians, and the school each belonged to was obvious. Now the members have synthesized into a core group who “get it,” Davis asserts. “They are a community. I can reference [Ellington’s] ‘Jubilee Stomp’ or a Beethoven symphony and everyone knows what I’m asking for!” Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: The Lightness of Lyric and the Density of ICE

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

By Dennis Polkow

Since 2013, flutist and International Contemporary Ensemble founder and artistic director Claire Chase has been on active search of a new “Density,” a reference to Edgard Varèse’s 1936 seminal flute piece “Density 21.5” (the title referred to the density of platinum, a premium flute material) a revolutionary piece of music that “forever changed the definition of the flute, humankind’s oldest instrument.”

Chase is looking to have commissioned and premiered the twenty-first-century equivalent of “Density” before the work’s centennial in 2036, at which time Chase will be fifty-eight. Chase’s search thus far has led her to offer world premieres of more then one-hundred new works for flute, many written specifically for her.

“Density 2036: part ii” presents a seventy-minute program of new works for flute and electronics (Levy Lorenzo, engineer) by George Lewis, Matthias Pintscher, Felipe Lara, Mario Diaz de León and Du Yun as Chase offers her first solo performance as Northwestern University’s Bienen School’s Institute for New Music’s 2014-15 resident artist. At $8 a ticket ($5 for students with ID) and with Varèse’s “Density” included as a finale along with a post-concert Q&A with Chase, that is a density deal. November 5, 7:30pm, Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place, Evanston, (847)467-4000.

Lyric Laughs at Its Age
November 1, 1954 was the date that Lyric Theatre of Chicago, later Lyric Opera of Chicago, came into being and the company is celebrating with a one-night-only all-star 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball on the actual anniversary date. The tone looks to be light and celebratory rather than the more formal affair that commemorated the company’s fiftieth anniversary a decade ago, since which some key company figures and artists associated with Lyric’s early years have passed away.

Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, who plays coach Sue Sylvester on the television series “Glee,” will serve as master of ceremonies and Second City will present a series of skits across the evening. Renée Fleming will traverse “Over the Rainbow” with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis as accompanist and Eric Owens will sing “Ol’ Man River.”

Sir Andrew Davis will lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and members and alumni of the Ryan Opera Center as well as a roster that includes Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka and Amber Wagner. (Previously announced Sondra Radvanovsky and Samuel Ramey will not be appearing.) Tickets for the concert only start at $75 and all concert-goers receive a hardbound copy of the commemorative book, “60 Lyric Moments.” 6:30pm, November 1, Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker, (312)332-2244.

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Beyond the Aria: J’nai Bridges with Craig Terry/Photo: Marcin Cymmer.

Journeys of the Voice
Harris Theater Presents, in conjunction with Lyric Opera’s Lyric Unlimited, has inaugurated an innovative new season-long vocal concert series called “Beyond the Aria.” The series is an outgrowth of Harris’ Tenth Anniversary Gala last fall when Harris president and managing director Michael Tiknis asked Ryan Opera Center director Craig Terry how Harris might collaborate with Lyric or the Ryan Center.

“What we ended up with was something that combined both,” says Terry, the curator, artistic advisor and accompanist of the series. Each concert spotlights two internationally known opera singers concurrently performing in Lyric Opera productions, appearing alongside of a current member of the Ryan Center.

The debut of the series featured soprano Ana María Martínez, baritone Bo Skovhus and Ryan Center mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges singing a wide range of genres including zarzuela, opera, lieder, operetta, chansons, jazz, Broadway and songs from the American songbook and featured cabaret-style seating with table service on the enclosed stage of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.

“I asked that everyone love the songs that they sing,” says Terry, “and we wanted the experience to be more relaxed than a regular concert hall. I had played on the Pritzker stage and it really is the perfect space: the idea is the rare pleasure to hear really great singers up close and personal in an intimate space.”

The next “Beyond the Aria” program features mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Azucena in the company’s current “II Trovatore”), baritone Quinn Kelsey (Count di Luna in “II Trovatore”) and Ryan Center soprano Laura Wilde. November 10, 7:30pm Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777, from $35.

Soumik Datta

Soumik Datta

East and West
East meets West in Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s eclectic evening of classical and contemporary Indian music and dance called “Mirror of Enlightenment” that includes “Mara,” an enlightenment tale that depicts the life of the Buddha performed by Chicago-based Indian classical dance company Kalapriya Dance.

Twenty-five Fulcrum Point musicians will merge Messiaen and Mingus with Indian composer Param Vir to present the U.S. premiere of Vir’s “Raga Fields, Concerto for Sarod and Ensemble” featuring British-Bengali sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta as soloist.

Tabla master and Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak will collaborate with sarod player Datta and Fulcrum Point founder/conductor/trumpeter Stephen Burns for the improvisational work “Rageshri” and will perform his own work  joined by his own ensemble, the Jazz Mata Trio. The program will conclude with Shirish Korde’s “Lalit,” a duet for flute and tabla featuring Pathak and Fulcrum Point flutist Mary Stolper. November 1, 7:30pm, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. $20 ($10 for students).

Notable Excursions
Guitarist extraordinaire John Abercrombie will perform with his revised quartet, which includes pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron, the same personnel on Abercrombie’s latest album, “39 Steps.” Abercrombie and Copland were both members of the Chico Hamilton Quartet and the fusion jazz-rock group Dreams back in the 1970s, but both have returned to more straight-ahead jazz as this group reflects. October 30-November 2, Jazz Showcase, 806 South Plymouth, (312)360-0234, from $20.

Attempting to fuse arts, science and culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the object of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” with the Canadian period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. Narration, choreography and music by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel will be performed to a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope. November 7, 7:30pm, University of Chicago’s Logan Center, 915 East 60th, (773)702-2787, $35 ($5 students with ID).

Newberry Consort’s “Música Barocca Mexicana” features eighteenth-century music of the New World for voices, violins, guitar, theorbo, harpsichord and cello reconstructed as performed at the cathedral in Durango, one of Mexico’s important music centers. Newly discovered masterpieces are included with many U.S. premieres of works by Ignacio Jerusalem, Santiago Billoni, Manuel de Sumaya and others. November 7-9, various locales, (773)669-7335, from $35.

Following up on its traversal of a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle two years ago and a complete Bartók string quartet cycle last season, this year the gifted and energetic Avalon Quartet is performing a complete Brahms string quartet cycle at the Art Institute. This exquisite Sunday afternoon series includes other pieces that influenced—or have been influenced by—Brahms, followed by illuminating gallery walks that tie together revolutions in music, painting and sculpture. Brahms Quartet No. 3, Op. 67 in B-flat Major and the Debussy Quartet are the pairings in this second of a four-concert season-long series. November 9, 2pm, Fullerton Hall, 111 South Michigan, (312)443-3600, free with museum admission.

The End of Journalism: New Ideas with Steve Albini

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Minimalism, Post-punk, Punk No Comments »
Steve Albini 1

Still from the documentary “Parallax Sounds”

By Kenneth Preski

Every critical outlet must justify its insights. The reasoning should extend beyond a simple citing of sources, should move past the seduction of poetic prose, and burrow down into the very tenets of knowledge that the writing seeks to embody. For a variety of equally abstract and profound reasons, this enterprise is in a badly confused state with respect to music journalism. What’s now required is a nuanced dialogue with musicians to re-appropriate the method, to re-envision the approach in favor of the artist and the audience. To that end, Steve Albini’s thoughts are invaluable. Beyond his work as a prolific sound engineer, Albini is a university-trained journalist and a seasoned musician. His band Shellac is on the eve of releasing “Dude Incredible” at a time when traditional operations for the music and publishing industries have been malformed by the internet. Now is the moment to re-strategize.

In an interview, it’s clear that the sea change has been on Albini’s mind. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: John Cale/Old Town School of Folk Music

Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Punk, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDjohn cale

Every list of John Cale’s achievements begins by cementing Cale’s role as a founding member of the Velvet Underground. At the onset of the group, Cale’s avant-garde and contemporary classical credentials lent a grounding circuit to the proceedings, with songwriting credits second only to Lou Reed. The spark in a song like “Venus in Furs” was summoned forth via his viola flourishes, or by his piano playing in “I’m Waiting for the Man.” Cale has continued to be a ceaseless experimenter, ever curious, always listening, and dead set on playing his own version of what’s next. The method has yielded a storied collection of recordings, with some unforgettable songs, including “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend,” an anxiety twitch of a tune that sounds good no matter who sings it. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Earth/Empty Bottle

Ambient, Drone, Experimental, Metal, Minimalism, Noise No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDearth-group

When Black Sabbath abandoned the name Earth, it was left for Dylan Carlson’s crew to assume two decades later. Earth’s mythology and music from the early nineties have proven to be equally formidable forces. Their seminal “Earth 2” is regarded as the first drone metal album, though their stint on Sub Pop is considered the beneficial byproduct of a close friendship with Kurt Cobain. Carlson and Cobain were former roommates, confidants and co-dependent drug users; their camaraderie culminating in Cobain’s suicide via a shotgun purchased in Carlson’s name. Two more albums were issued on Sub Pop, the epic distortion excursions of their genre-defining masterpiece tapered to shorter outbursts edging toward standard song length, replete with a Hendrix cover. And then, radio silence. In recent interviews, Carlson has credited this lost time to a continued struggle with drug addiction and depression, but by the mid-aughts, Earth had begun playing out again, revitalized by the inclusion of Carlson’s wife Adrienne Davies on drums, and supported by the successes of bands like Sunn O))) who owe much to the genre’s forebears. Read the rest of this entry »

Another American Songbook: Bill Orcutt Reimagines the Culture with “Twenty Five Songs”

Blues, Experimental, Folk, New Music, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

Seven-Inch-Box-ArtBy Kenneth Preski

The most common revelation upon hearing Bill Orcutt play is that the acoustic guitar has never sounded this way before. Backwoods blues at such a frenetic pace is nowhere to be found in the history of recorded music. Orcutt turns improvisation into instant songwriting. One can hear him struggling to work out the melody in his own voice, note by note, guided by a phantom precision lasting milliseconds, before the moan from his four-string guitar or his throat greets the listener with the force of a fire truck; the sound of which whirls by in “When You Wish Upon a Star.” That’s Orcutt calling from a distance, sitting alone in a wooden windowed room, minimal recording equipment by his side as he rails out the new American songbook.

The approach coalesced on this year’s “A History of Every One,” Orcutt’s take on the hackneyed songs of yore. “White Christmas” and “Zip A Dee Doo Dah” are among the tunes showcased, chosen by the artist to juxtapose two competing threads in American popular culture: bourgeois privilege and the legacy of slavery. Side A closes with the aforementioned “White Christmas,” the best-selling single of all time as sung by perennial crooner Bing Crosby; and Side B opens with “Zip A Dee Doo Dah,” a 1946 Oscar-winning tune from Disney’s “Song of the South,” a film steeped in enough racial controversy to prevent the corporation from ever releasing it on home media. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Natural Information Society/Empty Bottle

Chicago Artists, Jazz, New Music, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDJoshua Abrams

Trading in Joshua Abrams’ “Represencing” release is a lucrative practice. Somehow the 550-copy, vinyl-only album hasn’t become widespread in digital form during the past year, raising the resale price of the artifact while maintaining the mystique of its allure to those with the pleasure of owning it. The worldwide acclaim is justified—it’s an instant classic—Chicagoan by way of Southern Morocco, where The Gnaoua World Music Festival is held. There, the guimbri, a three-stringed bass made out of animal hide, is mystically employed by the Gnawa in a dialogue with Westernized guest jazz, pop and rock musicians, an event of immense local import. Attendance averages half a million people over four days, and many of the performances are free of charge. Read the rest of this entry »

Celestial Celebration: Ken Camden on Kranky’s Twentieth

Ambient, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Festivals, Indie Rock, Krautrock, Minimalism, New Music, Post-Rock, Rock, Space Pop No Comments »
Ken Camden

Ken Camden

By Kenneth Preski

Kranky is the most high-profile, under the radar record label that calls Chicago home. For the past twenty years, founder Joel Leoschke has fostered a stable of uncompromising, unpretentious artists whose work may have gone unreleased were it not for his uncanny knack for curation. The thread drawing together outfits as disparate as Deerhunter and Stars of the Lid has united musicians worldwide under one umbrella: part ambient, part electronic, part black earth rock ‘n’ roll. And “Black Earth” might be the best description available for the abstract sound Leoschke is after. As the title of local quartet Implodes’ full-length debut suggests, there’s an engrossing mysticism at work in much of the Kranky repertoire. The solo recordings of Implodes’ guitarist Ken Camden echoes this boundless energy, but even he is quick to acknowledge the fleeting nature of his alchemy, and his hesitancy to share it.

“I’ve always been making recordings at home and stuff, but I’m kinda bashful and wasn’t about to slip [Leoschke] a tape or anything.”

Cajoling artists of this ilk is an elusive art form, something Leoschke has perfected. Somehow he’s managed to cater to the cagey, artists wise enough to avoid making a deal when they needn’t, musicians hungry for harmony on a cosmic scale rather than the fleeting fame offered by superficial scenesters. Art of this kind often has a unique origin story. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Oneohtrix Point Never/Constellation

Ambient, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Glitch, New Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDOPN123

Trippy visuals broadcast upon an electronic musician pushing buttons to trigger recorded sounds is about as appealing to the average concertgoer as staying home to stare at a screensaver. Given that experimental linchpin Daniel Lopatin’s Oneohtrix Point Never project is carefully conceptualized to forgo the robotic rhythms of dance, it’s alarming that he would continue to arm his android impulse with the same performance tropes as his EDM counterparts. To be sure, Lopatin is after something different, elusive, abstract—he’s trying to get your brain to dance, not your body. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Crystal Bowersox/Evanston Space

Alt-Country, Alt-Rock, Blues, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, New Music, Pop, Rock No Comments »
Photo: Meg Bitton

Photo: Meg Bitton

RECOMMENDED

“American Idol” might have brought us talent like Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood and then-unappreciated Jennifer Hudson, but there were many other promising artists who ended up vanishing even if they did well on the show. While some flamed out soon and wound up playing minor parts in off-Broadway shows, some used the exposure to create a niche audience and build a solid career once the cameras were turned off.

An example of this is Ohio-born Crystal Bowersox, who was runner-up during the show’s ninth season (defeated by Chicago’s Lee DeWyze) in 2010. Signed to Jive Records that year, she released “Farmer’s Daughter,” and despite positive reviews and reasonable sales, she was dropped after RCA disbanded her label. She has since signed with indie label Shanachie Records (which also includes Ruben Studdard—another “Idol” veteran—in its roster) and is in the works to put out her sophomore album “All That For This” under the production of Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin. Read the rest of this entry »