Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Record Review: “Blank Project” by Neneh Cherry

Dance Pop, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Industrial, Pop, R&B, Record Reviews, Soul, Techno, World Music No Comments »


Is “Blank Project” a jazz, soul, art or pop album?  Listening to the disc attentively one could easily say all of the above, as the Swedish-born singer Neneh Cherry (known by mainstream music fans for her collaboration with Senegalese star Youssou N’ Dour) does her thing on her first solo release since 1996. Backed solely by Four Tet’s mix of percussion and electronic sounds, the music grabs you from the beginning with the Afro-inspired “Across The Water” and doesn’t let go until the very last track. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Zakir Hussain and the Masters of Percussion/Symphony Center

Indian Classical No Comments »
Photo: Jim McGuire

Photo: Jim McGuire


Son of tabla virtuoso Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Zakir Hussain began life as a tabla prodigy in his native India, becoming a disciple of his legendary father before embarking on his own career at the age of twelve. His American debut saw him performing with Ravi Shankar.

In addition to his contributions to Indian classical music where he also vocalizes in the traditional manner, Hussain has long enjoyed cross-fertilizing Indian music with other genres, including Western classical music, jazz, rock, blues, Bollywood, et al. He co-founded the fusion group Shakti with guitarist John McLaughlin, the Grammy Award-winning “Planet Drum” and “Global Drum Project” with Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead and has performed and recorded with a wide diversity of artists across genres including George Harrison, Yo-Yo Ma, Van Morrison, Mark Morris, Christoph Eschenbach, Rennie Harris, the Kodo Drummers and Bela Fleck and Edgar Meyer, among others. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Carlos Núñez/Old Town School of Folk Music

Celtic, Jazz, Latin, World Music No Comments »


When you think about Celtic music, you probably think of someone from the Scottish Highlands, Ireland or maybe France, but you will definitely change your mind when you hear the sounds of this talented musician from Galicia, Spain who has collaborated with the likes of The Chieftains (he was considered their “seventh member” when he worked with them), Sinéad O’Connor, Mexican-American band Los Lobos and Ry Cooder, to name a few.

Carlos Núñez is a virtuoso of the gaita, which is the Galician version of the bagpipes (another take on the instrument is also widely used by folk musicians in Italy). His style could be described as a blend of flamenco, Spanish folk, jazz and Celtic music with a contemporary, almost pop-like feel. His band’s arrangements are highly percussive and include instruments not commonly associated with Celtic music, such as Spanish guitars, electric bass, horns and Latin drums.

In a live format Núñez has fantastic energy and creativity with his improvised licks. He plays his gaita with the demeanor of a rock guitarist–which is probably why some of his fans have nicknamed him “the Hendrix of the bagpipes.” His band, which is rounded out by Stephanie Cadman (fiddle, step-dancing, vocals), Pancho Alvarez (medieval guitar) and Xurxo Nuñez (percussion), has great chemistry together. This is definitely something to discover if you haven’t yet done so. (Ernest Barteldes)

February 12 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, (773)728-6000. 8pm, $10 suggested donation.

Preview: Maria Rita/City Winery

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Pop, Samba, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


Brazilian singer Maria Rita built her career doing her best to be outside the shadow of her late mother Elis Regina, a legendary performer in her own right whose career was cut short by a cocaine overdose. It was not an easy task, since Rita’s voice is incredibly similar to her mother’s. Over the years, she stayed away from Regina’s material while making inventive, jazz-inspired albums accompanied by a simple trio of piano, acoustic bass and drums (the exception was 2007’s “Samba Meu,” which was recorded with various percussive instruments added to the band.)

It was not until 2012 that she finally agreed to work on a project with Regina’s music in commemoration of the thirty year anniversary of her passing. “Viva Elis” was originally planned to be a limited five-performance engagement, but due to public demand it later evolved into a national tour and a CD and DVD entitled “Redescobrir.” The album covers her mother’s greatest hits played in arrangements close to the original recordings (the audience is heard cheering at the opening chords of tunes like “Como Nossos Pais” and “Águas de Março”) while some of the lesser-known songs were given a completely different treatment under the musical direction of her brother, arranger and producer João Marcelo Bôscoli. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Natural Information Society/Empty Bottle

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


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 »

Preview: Anoushka Shankar/City Winery

Folk, Indian Classical, Jazz, World Music No Comments »


After dabbling with electronic music in collaboration with Karsh Kale on “Breathing Under Water,” and then pursuing flamenco-fusion on her own “Traveller,” sitarist Anoushka Shankar returns to her classical roots with “Traces of You” while still keeping other genres within arm’s reach. The opening track “The Sun Won’t Set,” for instance, is a beautiful ballad recorded in collaboration with her half-sister Norah Jones, and is much closer to Jones’ alt-folk style than to Indian music.

Though much of the disc is dedicated to Indian ragas, some of the tunes venture into completely different directions. “Metamorphosis” brings together traditional and modern sounds, including electronics and electric bass, while the soft, piano-centric ballad “Fathers” has elements of modern jazz. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Green/Bottom Lounge

Reggae, World Music No Comments »


Save for balladeer Jack Johnson or the late Iz, few Hawaii-based artists seem to get much attention in the mainland no matter how big they might be on the island. Luckily for Oahu-born The Green, that trend does not hold true. Their mellow, optimistic take on reggae seems to have struck a chord with mainstream fans, and from their self-titled 2010 debut onward they have been able to get the attention of reggae radio stations with reach far beyond Hawaiian locals. Their third release, “Hawai’i ’13,” (out on Easy Star) is proof of that. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Mariza/Harris Theater

Folk, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


Arguably one of the lead voices of the current fado revivalist movement in Portugal, Mariza maintains the tradition of the genre while turning the spotlight on a whole new generation of composers that help keep her country’s most traditional musical style ripe for rediscovery by young generations who may have otherwise relegated it to the past.

Mariza has a dramatic singing style reminiscent of the late “Queen of Fado” Amalia Rodrigues. She brushes off those comparisons, as in the release of her 2007 live album “Concerto Em Lisboa,” where she states that, “there will be no next Amalia Rodrigues like there is no next Tom (Antonio Carlos) Jobim.” After all, new talents will always emerge but they will never be able to replace those who have passed. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Tales From The Grand Bazaar” by Bombay Dub Orchestra

DJ, Drum 'n' Bass, Electronic/Dance, Indian Classical, Orchestral, Record Reviews, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »


On their sixth musical foray, the duo formed by Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay emerge with their trademark mix of electronica, orchestra and Indian sounds. During their career they have collaborated with luminaries like percussionist/composer Karsh Kale (who co-produced one of their earlier efforts) and sitarist Anoushka Shankar, all the while maintaining a tendency to focus on a dance-floor-friendly format.

This time around, they lean toward a more diverse direction by incorporating Asian-centric grooves. For instance, “Blue Mosaic” features wordless vocals and the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, while “City of Amber” contains a fierce drum ‘n’ bass groove, much to the delight of DJs and remixers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Julieta Venegas/Concord Music Hall

Folk-rock, Pop, Rock, Singer-Songwriter, World Music No Comments »


Tijuana-born Julieta Venegas is a multi-faceted singer-songwriter who is equally comfortable belting out acoustic-based, folksy tunes alongside more pop-oriented songs, as evidenced by her 2012 release “Los Momentos,” which she is promoting with an extended tour of the United States. ”Los Momentos showcases a more mature side of Venegas, who took a short break from performing following the birth of her daughter Simona three years ago. Her songs have a greater depth, and she has come to embrace traditional instruments with greater frequency. The title track has a touch of jazz, and the black-and-white promo video for the tune has a retro fifties feel that showcases her accompanied by a grand piano. Read the rest of this entry »