Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

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 »

The Shape of Jazz Today: Jason Adasiewicz’s Creative Emergence

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Jazz 1 Comment »

Jason Adasiewicz
By Kenneth Preski

Stand in a room while Jason Adasiewicz is performing and his artistry is self-evident. The rarest musicians are those who are able to overcome the technical standards of their instrument and in turn breathe life into a new playing style; unquestionably unique, a different way of looking at the world. Sometimes that’s what it takes to capture an audience’s attention. Even frequent collaborator and jazz immortal Peter Brötzmann was not a fan of the vibraphone before he heard Jason Adasiewicz. “He actually hates that instrument,” laughs Adasiewicz, sitting with one on his right, a drumkit to his left. That’s because, until now, no one has ever played the vibraphone like he does. Read the rest of this entry »

Chef’s Special: A New Course from Kelis

Funk, Interviews, Pop, R&B, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Laurent Levy

Photo: Laurent Levy

By Kenneth Preski

The best way to understand an artist is to meet them on their own terms, something that’s exceedingly difficult to do with Kelis, a musician who’s made a career out of defying definition. Check her track record: “Caught Out There” in 1999, “Milkshake” in 2003, “Bossy” in 2006, “Acapella” in 2010—a decade worth of hits to undermine any criticisms about her artistic vision. These songs resonate because of Kelis’ exceptional ability to layer vocal harmonies with a shifting timbre; striking a delicate balance between hard and soft, the opposing textures of her voice veering whichever way the mood shifts. Kelis has used the technique to create songs that are spiritual and sexual in equal measure, standout track “Floyd” off of her latest album “Food” emphasizing her skill in the endeavor, a heavenly refrain about being blown away. Through her music, Kelis is both sacred and profane in a world that can’t get enough of either. Read the rest of this entry »

Sabers Unsheathed: Life after The M’s with Josh Chicoine

Alt-Rock, Chamber Pop, Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Indie Rock, Interviews, Pop, Psych pop, Rock No Comments »

By Kenneth Preskisabers hi res

The album opens with its own thing, like if Britpop could boogie. Coming from Josh Chicoine, current artistic director and co-founder of CIMMfest, the music is a natural extension of all his previous work. Sabers play pop-rock with an adventurous edge. Sure, it’s pretty and pop-tinged, but so were The M’s, Chicoine’s previous outlet, a group with harmonies so sweet that they won over a whole new audience via an appearance on the big-budget video game MLB2K7, right alongside The Stooges, Nirvana and 311. But “Sic Semper Sabers” is its own thing. The track “Money Eddie” cloaks its charming verses in a sinister swirl of synth and bombastic beats, somewhere between The Beta Band and The Flaming Lips. On “Remedy,” all the flourishes of orchestral instrumentation shine bright courtesy of Max Crawford’s wonderful horn section lifting a wilting refrain to a summer simmer. “Ever Eyeing” has a beautiful build-up where Chicoine’s falsetto meets a handclap crescendo; while “Puppet” has the type of mocking melody that a taunting toddler would issue. Take your pick, Sabers’ debut is full of playful, impactful, well… hits! Okay, maybe not if measured by units sold, but in some alternate version of America (maybe even the one in your own backyard) Josh Chicoine is making compelling music to widespread acclaim. Read the rest of this entry »

Bass Exploration: Groove Weaving with Chuck Webb

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

By Corey HallIMG_1039

Forty years later, the song’s groove and message still inspire him: “Said the long-haired hippies and the afro blacks / They all get together across the tracks /And they party!”

As a teenager growing up in the seventies at 85th and Stony Island, Chuck Webb saved his allowance to purchase that record, James Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot.” As a bassist whose first band, Quiet Fire, had opened up for Ramsey Lewis at the Ivanhoe Theater while still in the eighth grade, Webb absolutely dug this tune’s tasty bass break.

“I always thought it was really cool. And maybe in the back of my mind, I said, ‘If I ever get a chance to record this song, I’m going to play it longer, because it’s only about three or four bars,” Webb says. “And those lines about the long-haired hippies and the afro blacks always seemed so profound,” he continues. “It was like a message of unity hidden within the groove.”

Well, Webb—whose acoustic and electric bass playing has been heard with artists ranging from Ramsey Lewis to Al Di Meola, Charley Pride to Lalah Hathaway—has recorded and stretched out that bass break at will on “No Smoke, No Mirrors,” his debut album that will be released on May 23. This nine-song program features his five-piece band: tenor saxophonist/flautist Steve Eisen, pianist/keyboardist Tom Vaitsas; electric/acoustic guitarist Buddy Fambro, drummer Ben Jammin Johnson, and vocalist Michael Scott, who appears twice.

Recorded live and filmed for DVD release before family and friends at Soundmine Studios, 8043 South Stony Island, “No Smoke, No Mirrors” is Webb’s attempt to combine acoustic jazz, electric funk and R&B/soul into one complete statement. “I need to present myself to the world, and this is what I do,” Webb says, who also serves as Director of Bass Studies at Columbia College. Everything the listener will hear, he added, is live, with his bass serving as the engine propelling the vehicle. No sequences; no studio tricks; no overdubs. Read the rest of this entry »

Dual Command: Chicago Underground Duo Locates its Locus

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews, Jazz No Comments »

Courtesy Northern Spy Records

By Dave Cantor

This is how much noise two dudes can make.

In an improvising group consisting of just drummer Chad Taylor and cornetist Rob Mazurek, it’d be assumed that intent listening plays a significant role in how the Chicago Underground Duo put together its works. But the truth, each player says, is somewhere between thought and expression.

“One of the first things Cooper-Moore said to me when I started playing with him is that I’m a really good listener,” Taylor writes in an email from Europe, where he’s touring as part of the Eric Revis Quartet. “I took it as a compliment, but he meant it to be an insult. What I have learned over the years is that it is important to listen, but if you listen too much, everything you play is a reaction to something you’ve heard.” Read the rest of this entry »

Private Access to Public Personas: Cutting Loose with Basic Cable

Chicago Artists, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Kenneth Preski

Photo: Sarah Hess

Photo: Sarah Hess

Maintaining a sense of journalistic objectivity about Basic Cable is impossible. Beyond band duties, bassist Luca Cimarusti is the music listings coordinator at the Chicago Reader, and drummer Ryan Duggan is a prolific designer whose work includes last fall’s “Art 50″ cover for Newcity. The group’s reward for being so intimately involved in Chicago’s music scene has been a local press vacuum for their latest project. Highfalutin ideals are fine fodder for fools and philosophers, and being a bit of both presented the perfect opportunity for me to defy all proper notions of my profession. In short: if local publications must ignore their own for fear of impropriety, then it’s the fool’s duty to challenge the philosophical framework preventing profoundly relevant artists from being properly covered. No problem playing the fool here, I have much experience in this regard with the men of Basic Cable. Two members and me share a hometown. I’ve known Luca as Luke since I was fourteen and bummed rides off of him to local punk shows. I’ve know Michael John Grant, guitarist and primary vocalist, as MJ since around the same time. Knowing what I know, I made sure to eat an early dinner before sitting down for an interview with the group. These guys can drink. Read the rest of this entry »

Fast Riffs on Fast Food: The Orwells’ Race Against Time

Chicago Artists, Garage Rock, Interviews, Punk, Rock No Comments »

By Rob Szypkoorwells_band_photo

On a Thursday evening in March, the green room at the Bowery Ballroom in New York is stuffed with people, but The Orwells, the band of teenage hellraisers from the suburbs of Chicago, stick out like a sore thumb. In one corner, a photographer announces to the bearded or salt-and-pepper-haired managers around him that he needs to step out to meet up with his ex-wife and son, who happen to live right down the street. In the other corner, members of The Orwells discuss Chapstick addiction, and then lead singer Mario Cuomo, aged twenty, shares pictures of longboard baby strollers on his smartphone.

There they are, the young guys. But the five members of The Orwells carry a sense of urgency that belies the number of years they have ahead of them. “Once you’re past twenty-five or something, your time in rock ‘n’ roll, if you haven’t made it then, is kind of up,” guitarist Matt O’Keefe, aged nineteen, says. “If I were twenty-five and I were living off of Wendy’s or McDonald’s, I would be very depressed with my life. But as a nineteen-year-old I couldn’t be more excited about it.” Read the rest of this entry »

At Attention: Chicago Underground Heroes ONO Refine Their Decades-Old Sonic Mission

Chicago Artists, Experimental, Interviews No Comments »
Photo: Flint Chaney

Photo: Flint Chaney

By Dave Cantor

ONO’s singer says he doesn’t listen to its recordings. It’d make him too nervous. Sometimes, travis says, it’s hard enough just to record. It could be because what travis has written clearly comes from contemplation of his military experience; a track called “Army” finds inclusion on the band’s “Diegesis,” set to be released by Moniker Records. And while he says performance was a part of his childhood, taking the stage in church and at school, the whole thing’s still a trial.

“There’re all of these people doing sound and noise that are there, and that’s been the case ever since I started playing in Cleveland,” he says of performing music, as opposed to the poetry he started on in that Midwestern city during the late 1960s. “I think there are a lot of facets to my personality—in Mississippi that’s called character…There is some self-hatred that I have and when I’m on stage; there are all these other facets I can overlay.” Read the rest of this entry »

Cue the Police Sirens: An Interview with Gangsta Rapper Freddie Gibbs on the Eve of “Piñata”

Hip-Hop, Interviews, Rap 1 Comment »
Photo: Peter Beste

Photo: Peter Beste

By Kenneth Preski

Gang violence, murder, robbery, drug dealing, prostitution: all fodder for Freddie Gibbs on “Thuggin’,” the first single released from his collaboration with Madlib, the world’s greatest beatsmith. The gangsta rapper even goes as far as selling crack to one of his family members to avoid having her go up the street to turn a trick for it. Welcome to Gary, Indiana through the eyes of Gangsta Gibbs, a man who puts the rap in rap sheet. It has to be bullshit, right? Some over-the-top braggadocio to pull one over on record buyers. No one could come through that much trauma unscathed. Given the genre’s many imitators, thug is a costume, and one size fits all. Not according to the man himself: “All that shit is real, man. I don’t have no persona. I don’t have no rap persona. Everything is real and authentic. If I’m talking about it, then I saw it.” Given the criminality of his lyrical content, that’s a chilling confession. Gibbs’ memory is mined for source material during the entirety of “Piñata,” a release which is not just one of the best hip-hop records this year, but one of the best, period. Read the rest of this entry »