Chicago singer-songwriter Lili K. first galvanized me with the debut single off her new album, “Ruby.” The tune—“Tommy”—is such a polished, pitch-perfect soul ballad, I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it had come out in the seventies. “I got a man, he’s as sweet as pecan pie,” the singer croons seductively at the outset, against a backdrop of sultry trumpets; and by the bridge (which will get in your brain so deep major surgery may be required to remove it), she’s enlisted a trio of backup singers to help declaim the super-fineness of her guy (“Tommy / You’re like a book of poetry / Tommy / Your words alone excite me / Tommy / Don’t you ever let go of me”). It wasn’t till I saw the video that I got Lili K.’s utterly modern playfulness. Read the rest of this entry »
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By Dennis Polkow
Although Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang is calling from London, where he’s just given a recital at Royal Albert Hall, he is thinking ahead to Chicago. “I need to buy a new suit, I had my big breakthrough there,” he recalls, a reference to when, at conductor Christoph Eschenbach’s encouragement, he stepped in as a last-minute, unknown replacement for an indisposed Andre Watts at a 1999 Ravinia Festival Chicago Symphony Orchestra Gala, and became an overnight sensation at the ripe old age of seventeen.
Eschenbach, then Ravinia music director, was a mentor to Lang Lang, as was then-CSO music director Daniel Barenboim, so that Chicago was like a second home. He was the first artist to offer a piano recital at the Civic Opera House in 2012, and was so impressed with the sound of the venue, that he returns there this month. “When you see such a big hall, you always worry about, ‘what is the sound like?’ But it has perfect sound. I remember last time, I was playing Mozart, it was so beautiful, so precise, so intimate. It’s a miracle to see such a big space have such an intimate sound.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Corey Hall
Silently, the musicians in the Chicago-born Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) stand and face east before a single note is expressed. This, according to Muhal Richard Abrams, the Association’s co-founder, is because all life originates in the east. If any evil energies exist in a performance space, the musicians must wear war paint and masks for protection. This tradition has characterized AACM presentations since 1965.
The organization celebrates its golden anniversary this month, beginning on April 22 with a performance by the Hanah Jon Taylor Artet at The Promontory and culminating in a collaborative finale, “Together: A Power Stronger Than Itself,” at Mandel Hall on April 26, in which fifty AACM members perform as one. In between are recitals and concerts at various venues around town, by artists such as Saalik’s Epoch Zed, cellist Tomeka Reid and The Colson Group.
Drummer Dushun Mosley and violist Renée Baker—two AACM members who are participating in multiple performances during the celebration—recently spoke about why this cooperative association still matters. Read the rest of this entry »
It makes perfect sense to book a band into a theater—at least when the band is Booty Movement Coalition (affectionately known by aficionados as BMC) and the theater is the Mission at the new iO (formerly the ImprovOlympic). If you expand the concept of improv beyond stand-up and sketch comedy to encompass all the live arts, you end up with a much wider performance palette; and that appears to be the Mission’s mission, as they’ve committed to an ongoing series of music Mondays. BMC, for its part, has the distinction of being a ten-to-fourteen-member band which since its founding in 2009 has never given the same performance twice—because every single note is improvised, on the spot. Read the rest of this entry »
By Dennis Polkow
“We’re both preachers’ kids,” says soprano Alfreda Burke of herself and husband, tenor Rodrick Dixon. “And as classical singers, we had both done our share of traditional Handel ‘Messiah’ performances.”
For the past ten years, however, the couple has been headlining the “Too Hot to Handel: A Jazz-Gospel Messiah,” each Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. With the Auditorium celebrating its 125th anniversary this season and these being the tenth anniversary Chicago performances of “Too Hot to Handel,” Burke says “this is going to be a very festive celebration this time around.”
“It really started with [conductor] Marin Alsop in New York City with the Concordia Orchestra,” explains Dixon, who became familiar with the piece by being asked to substitute for Thomas Young, the work’s original tenor. “Marin had commissioned it from Bob Christianson and Gary Anderson, to do a whole rearrangement of Handel’s ‘Messiah’ with a modern twist that kept the famous melodies that people have come to love all over the world, except modernizing them in the sense of jazz, gospel, blues and some cinematic orchestration ideas that Bob and Gary were very well known for in New York.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Keidra Chaney
Here we are at the end of the year, and while most music journalists will inflict their top-ten bands/albums/live shows of 2014 lists on their readers, I’ve decided to spare you. There’s still enough time, after all, to catch the best show of the year, or even check out a new band or album that might be your favorite. There have been two or three times that my favorite concert of a given year took place during the last six weeks on the calendar (I’m looking at you, St Vincent!). This is especially true with the holidays approaching; Chicago is fond of its Christmas and pre-New Year’s live music showcases and events. Either way, there’s still a lot going on in the city when it comes to live music. Here are a few standouts.
The Empty Bottle (1035 North Western) is all up in Christmas this month, with a whole slew of Christmas and Christmas-ish events to celebrate the holiday. On December 12, they’re throwing their second annual Bottle Hop to raise money for the Greater Chicago Food Depository. It’s an old-school rock ‘n’ roll/soul/R&B shindig, which makes it a perfect opportunity to dress kinda fancy. The lineup includes badass throwback soul band The Congregation (on the verge of very big things, I predict), fifties rockers The Tenders and western swing outfit The Chandelier Swingers. The show is $10 and starts at 9pm.
A week later, on December 19, space-y collaboration Quarter Mile Thunder throws a “Xmas psych party” (which also doubles as an album release party) with the Record Low. The following night features holiday-themed Chicago supergroup Snow Angels (comprising members of Mannequin Men, Johnny and The Limelites, Vee Dee and Automatic Stinging Machines), who reconvene for their annual holiday performance; they say it’s been twelve years since they started.
If that’s too much live music for you, the Bottle also hosts a pair of lunch-hour events in time for Christmas shopping: a poster sale on December 14 and a pop-up holiday market on December 20. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re in the age of single-named indie-pop chanteuses (i.e. Lorde, Kimbra). But L.A.-based singer-songwriter Banks (full name Jillian Banks) was a relatively unanticipated addition to the indie music buzz bin back in 2013 with her nineties trip-hop-influenced single “Before I Ever Met You.” Now on the heels of her debut release, “Goddess,” she’s garnering more comparisons, this time to indie R&B acts like The Weeknd. Read the rest of this entry »
Of all the Saturday sets, Kelela’s was the couples skate, offering r&b romance for the masses. The audience at the Blue Stage was dominated by women, and Kelela was in absolute control of her rhythm and range, her vocals run through an effects setup manned by her DJ. Throughout the performance, Kelela was personable, offering insights into her craft, and singing well into her highest register with a practiced mastery. Many of Kelela’s tracks feature hand-clap samples, and the impulse was infectious. “Bank Head,” and a wonderful remix of “Keep It Cool” were the highlights, and of course Kelela’s teaser to follow her on Twitter and Instagram to find out where she’ll be performing at an after-show tonight. She let it slip that the venue has a capacity of one-hundred-and-fifty, but also offered to come outside and serenade anyone who doesn’t make it in. I’d take her up on it if I were you. (Kenneth Preski)
I am all for a good slow jam, but you have to be in the right kind of mood for a set of mostly down-tempo songs, and after The Haxan Cloak, I was not in that mood. However, SZA and her band killed it; her sexy but bubbly stage presence was perfect for Pitchfork (she even took requests!) and she has a killer range (when she goes low, she sounds phenomenal). Her band is tight, not delivering a note-by-note re-creation of her hybrid ambient/r&b sound, but a groove-drenched translation that worked well live. The crowd seemed amped for it; but they probably didn’t see Haxan Cloak, and were in a better mood than I was. (Keidra Chaney)
It requires very little effort to fall deeply in love with Neneh Cherry when she’s performing on stage. Cherry’s complete dedication to delighting her audience was the saving grace of her second-ever performance in the United States (the first since 1992), as the gentlemen of RocketNumberNine were pushed to their maximum efforts, battling electronic failure and, one suspects, jet-lag in equal measure. No matter, Cherry was an absolute delight, playing cuts off her latest, and yes, closing with “Buffalo Stance,” albeit a version with subdued instrumentation. The set blossomed more than it banged, the crowd allowing easy access to the closer spots near the front, as much of the audience began picnicking in preparation for Sharon Van Etten on the adjacent stage. Yet there’s simply no denying Cherry’s infectious presence, her unflinching embrace of an unmatched exuberance; it had me almost wishing that she would do the entire set a cappella. If this turns out to be Cherry’s last ever performance in the United States, I’d still somehow feel satisfied. (Kenneth Preski)