Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

The Tip Sheet: April’s Best Bets

Chicago Artists, Classical, Minimalism, New Music 1 Comment »
marc_mellits1

Marc Mellits

By Seth Boustead

For nearly twenty years I made my living as a piano teacher and had as many as sixty students at one time. Over the last few years though, as my kale farming business has taken off, I’ve been cutting down on the number of students and these days I’m down to just one.

She’s close to ninety years old and, when she’s not in Paris or Mexico or some other far-flung locale, she drives herself to her lessons and she’s a better driver than you or me or most anyone I know.

Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Philip Glass Comes Home to Chicago

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Interviews, Minimalism, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Rock, World Music No Comments »
Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

By Dennis Polkow

Composer Philip Glass is coming home. Well, sort of. The high priest of Minimalism, a term Glass has always loathed, will be in residence at the University of Chicago this month. Although it is not the first time Glass has been back to his Hyde Park alma mater, where he was once a mathematics and philosophy major, this is his first official residency there as a Presidential Arts Fellow.

Glass’ residency will include a University of Chicago Presents concert where he and others will perform his Piano Etudes, a screening of the film “Mishima” which Glass scored and will discuss, a free public talk on artistic collaboration and various conversations with students and faculty from across the university.

Chicago was where Glass originally realized—while practicing piano pieces of Charles Ives and Anton Webern—that he wanted to become a composer, although he would head to Juilliard to begin to accomplish that goal. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Bella Voce celebrates Arvo Pärt’s Eightieth Birthday by Looking Bach

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Interviews, Minimalism, New Music, News and Dish, Shape Singing, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Arvo Pärt

Arvo Pärt

By Dennis Polkow

Estonian composer Arvo Pärt turned eighty last month, a milestone which has been celebrated across the music world during this anniversary year. In Chicago, Bella Voce has taken the lead in offering Pärt performances: his “Stabat Mater” last spring and this fall, his “Berliner Messe,” a 1990 work for vocalists and organ which Pärt later revised for string orchestra and chorus.

Bella Voce is no stranger to the music of Pärt, having been chosen by Pärt’s celebrated interpreter and subsequent biographer Paul Hillier to be the choir heard in the North American professional premiere of Pärt’s “St. John Passion”—better known by its short Latin title, “Passio”—back in 1990 when the group was still known as His Majestie’s Clerkes. Read the rest of this entry »

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: 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 »

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 »

Shining Path: Guitarist Steve Gunn Chases Creeping Songcraft

Blues, Folk, Minimalism, Psychedelic 1 Comment »

Steve Gunn (credit Constance Mensh) By Dave Cantor

“My first solo guitar performance was in my backyard when I lived in Philadelphia,” Steve Gunn says over the phone from his Brooklyn residence.

The journey from performing in a band to amassing enough confidence to get out in front of a crowd and express musical ideas can be an excruciatingly difficult maneuver. Inspiration helps, and for Gunn, it showed up in the form of departed guitarist Jack Rose.

“I only played a very short set,” Gunn says of that backyard gathering. “Jack played and a few other friends. That was my first attempt at doing it. Then I didn’t do it for years after that.”

A revival of interest in players like Leo Kottke and John Fahey bloomed during the middling-aughts, while Rose’s renown grew beyond Pelt, the band he’d founded while still in Philly. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Private View+2” by Swing Out Sister

Jazz, Minimalism, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul No Comments »

Private_View2RECOMMENDED

The British duo formed by keyboardist Andy Connell and Corinne Drewery had a string of hits during the late eighties and early nineties, including memorable tunes like “Am I The Same Girl” and “Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool.” Twenty-five years later, they continue to tour and record regularly.

On “Private View+2,” they revisit their early hits and some mostly unknown songs. By listening to the album, you can see how they have evolved—they have embraced more jazz-influenced sounds that are probably owed to their past collaboration with musicians like Luis Jardim (percussion).

The album has more of an acoustic direction—“Mama Didn’t Raise No Fool,” for instance, is devoid of any electronic instruments. Connell inserts a snippet of the Doris Day classic “Once I Had a Secret Love” and Drewery sounds very comfortable in this more relaxed atmosphere. The cover of The Delfonics’ “La-La Means I Love You” is arranged around the acoustic bass, and has more of a light-jazz feel. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Freelance Whales/Lincoln Hall

Folk, Folk-rock, Indie Pop, Minimalism, New Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Who says busking on the New York City subway (or any mass transit platform where you can be heard) has no future? It was there that Queens-based Freelance Whales honed their skills playing folksy electronic music with unusual instruments (glockenspiel, banjos, xylophone) until they became indie-music darlings after the release of their debut “Weathervanes” back in 2009.

The band’s name comes from the band members’ perception that everyone in New York is a freelancer in one way or another (not sure if the folks down on Wall Street would agree with that). Their releases have been well received both by critics and fans, and some of their tunes have appeared in TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Chuck” and “Skins.” Their music seems a bit minimalist—drums are played with brushes, and their arrangements are both creative and subtle, which allows vocalist (and main songwriter) Judah Dadone to comfortably convey his message without having to scream over the sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Transcontinental Dub: Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones Occupies the Crossroad of Disparate Sounds

Experimental, Minimalism, Noise, Psychedelic No Comments »

Sun Araw/Photo: Fabian Villa

By Dave Cantor

Electronic experiments in the States  and Jamaica’s vocal tradition may be one of the few remaining untapped combinations in the music world. Luckily, Cameron Stallones, who performs and records as Sun Araw, was already privy to the work of a North Carolinian who wouldn’t distinguish between acoustic folk traditions and 1950s minimal compositions. Unwittingly influenced by Henry Flynt’s recombination, Stallones generates at the crossroad of disparate sounds.

“Some of that stuff is the most relentlessly psychedelic music—like the violin strobe stuff,” Stallones says of Henry Flynt’s fiddle improvisations, which are set atop looped drones for 1981’s “You Are My Everlovin’.” Read the rest of this entry »