Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Offbeat: Earth, Wind & Fire Comes Home to “Celebrate” Life of Founder

Afrobeat, Blues, Calypso, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Funk, In Memoriam, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul, Space Pop, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005.

Verdine White (left) and Maurice White in 2005

By Dennis Polkow

When Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White died in his sleep on February 3 at the age of seventy-four after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease, the accolades for the former Chicagoan were universal.

“We had talked the day before and I had seen him a few days before,” says Maurice’s brother, Chicago native and EWF bassist Verdine White, “so this was a huge surprise.” Verdine describes Maurice’s passing as a “transition” and says that he still “guides me, as he always has.” Although Maurice gave up performing with Earth, Wind & Fire in 1994, he remained a mentor to the band until his death.

It was Maurice who came up with the idea of a multi-genre band that would be an amalgam of styles at a time when, as Verdine puts it, “there was a revolution going on in music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Avery R. Young/The California Clipper

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews, Neo-soul No Comments »

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Renowned R&B and neo-soul performer, singer, poet and local celebrity Avery R. Young is notorious for blowing the roof of venues throughout Chicago, where he offers up his entire being through verse, sharing his intense and spirited approach to life, music and politics. Young fuses the past and present through his body on the stage and throughout his lengthy creative career. As he unabashedly delves into the rich traditions of “blk folk,” the African-American experience erupts from Young’s lyrics, bubbling with humor and history. His life practice as an essayist, educator and vocalist culminates in his recent full-length album, “Booker T. Soltreyne: A Race Rekkid.” He calls his work “sunday mornin jook joint,” balancing tragedy and triumph, poetic forms and melodrama with scholarly precision.  Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Downright R&B, Upright Art Rock

Alt-Rock, Blues, Chicago Artists, Experimental, Funk, Indie Rock, R&B, Record Reviews, Rock, Soul No Comments »

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By Robert Rodi

The new album by local soul outfit The Congregation is called “Record Collection,” which is exactly perfect, because every single cut sounds like something you had teetering in a waist-high stack of forty-fives in your bedroom circa 1972. (At least, if you’re as old as I am, you did.) The first, eponymous cut lays it all out: “You only love me for my record collection / You say you never felt a deeper connection / Nothing gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax / Without the record spinnin’ would you like it like that?” I found myself actually picturing the Motown and Stax platter labels while I was listening—Atlantic, Epic and Mercury too.

This is about the point in a review where I usually say something about how the band in question brings a twenty-first century sensibility to an antique genre by a strategic infusion of self-aware blah blah blah. None of that here. The fact is, early seventies soul, funk and R&B form, collectively, such a staggering body of work that when people say they’re approaching it from a post-something-or-other perspective, it usually means they just can’t goddamn play as well as those old cats. But The Congregation is completely unafraid to meet the legends on level ground, without the protective cover of ironic distance—and even if they didn’t get points for sheer swagger, they’d get it for delivering the goods. This is a great album. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Somi/The Promontory

Jazz, Live Reviews, Soul, World Music No Comments »

somi-last-song-video

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Jazz has always been a meritocracy, in the sense that hooks matter more than looks. But that doesn’t mean we can’t appreciate a concentrated dose of oomph when it’s right there in front of us. Peggy Lee worked it. So did Nina Simone. And the New York singer-songwriter Somi (born in Illinois to Ugandan and Rwandan parents) has the same kind of high-voltage charisma. She also has an absolutely exquisite instrument—graceful, gorgeous and under her complete control. In the fifties, she’d have knocked ‘em dead in supper clubs; today, she’s slaughtering digitally, in ravishing videos like her simmering R&B ballad, “Ginger Me Slowly.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Soul Diva Lili K. Offers Up a Gem

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul No Comments »

Ruby
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 »

Offbeat: Lang Lang Dresses Up and Down for Chicago, Sixties Rockers Hold Summit for Musician’s Musician

Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Folk, Folk-rock, Interviews, Jazz, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Psychedelic, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, Soul No Comments »
Lang Lang  Photo: Neale Haynes

Lang Lang

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 »

Still Facing East: AACM Celebrates Fifty Years of Great Black Music

Chicago Artists, Classical, Festivals, Interviews, Jazz, Orchestral, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Mosley one

Dushun Mosley

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 »

Preview: Booty Movement Coalition/Mission Theater

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Dance Pop, Funk, Hip-Hop, Indie Pop, Jazz, R&B, Soul, World Music No Comments »
Ty&JQ

Typhanie Monique, JQ

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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 »

Offbeat: An Eclectic “Messiah” for a Diverse Holiday, Muti on Scriabin as the Next Mahler

Big Band, Blues, Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Holiday Music, Interviews, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, R&B, Reggae, Rock, Soul, Vocal Music No Comments »
Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon

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 »

Raw Material: Chicago Music 2015—You Read it Here

Folk-rock, Garage Rock, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Neo-soul, Post-metal No Comments »
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Sidewalk Chalk

By Keidra Chaney
While recapping the musical highlights of the past year is satisfying, looking forward to the new year is even more fun. Speculation always runs rampant, but the great thing is never knowing what to expect from new bands, new shows, new trends. Sometimes the next big thing in Chicago music comes out of nowhere, or an older favorite manages to surprise. And of course, in Chicago, we approach the upcoming summer concert festival season like it’s a basketball draft. So yes, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2015. Here are a few January shows to start off the year right, along with a few unscientific predictions about what to expect in Chicago music for the new year. Or maybe it’s just a wish list. You decide.
Apparently January is a good month for anniversaries, and there are two pretty significant ones coming up at Metro (3730 North Clark). Chicago’s pride, Bloodshot Records, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary on January 10 with an impressive lineup: folk-rocker Ben Kweller, Lydia Loveless (wasn’t she just in town?), alt-country local Jon Langford, Bobby Bare Jr., and Nashville six-piece Banditos.  The 18+ show is $21 and starts at 7pm. On January 30, post-metal trio Russian Circles comes home for their tenth-anniversary tour. I’ve been a huge fan of the band since their 2008 full-length release “Station,” and their acclaim seems to increase with each passing year. I never thought I’d see the band (or any heavy local band, honestly) play Millennium Park, and yet last summer’s show at Pritzker Pavilion was one of my favorites of an already impressive summer. This is a better time than any to check out the band, as they’ve promised a lineup of “special guests” for their hometown. If you haven’t seen them live, you’re running out of excuses. The 18+ show is $18/$20 d.o.s., and starts at 9pm. Prediction: We may finally see Chicago heavy music get its due in more mainstream circles.

Read the rest of this entry »