Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Martin Barre Band/Martyrs’

Folk-rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

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“The thing that pleases me is melody,” says Martin Barre, lead guitarist for British folk-progressive rockers Jethro Tull from their 1969 “Stand Up” LP through the group’s dissolution. “If I can come up with some nice chords and a really melodic top line, that gives me great satisfaction.”

Since that band ceased operations, Barre has taken the opportunity to kick-start his long-nascent solo career. “I didn’t get the opportunity to start doing solo material until 1983, when we all decided to take a year off.” Of going solo full time in 2014, Barre says: “I started to learn very late, but maybe that’s a good thing. I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is great. I’m really inventing my career as a musician.’ And I’ve been happy—really, really happy—ever since.” 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 »

Preview: Toronzo Cannon/The Hideout

Blues, Chicago Artists, Live Reviews No Comments »

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Periodically I wonder at the endurance of the blues in the frictionless, digital roller coaster we call the twenty-first century. It takes a young artist like Toronzo Cannon (born in 1968, which makes him practically an ingenue in blues circles) to remind us of the reason: that when your life craps out and craters, you end up in a place that never changes. There’s no wifi in the gutter. There’s no anything—not in the external sense; just a population of gone-wrongs, each mired in his or her own tragic psychodrama.

And with Cannon at the frets, that navel-gazing has never sounded more triumphantly invigorating… even funny. In “Walk It Off” (from his new Alligator Records release, “The Chicago Way”) he bemoans that classic uh-oh scenario, “My wife in the club, my girlfriend on the way / I’m standing here nervous while I’m on the stage / She came right in, and sat right down / Wearing the same dress I bought them both when I was out of town.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Badi Assad/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bossa Nova, Latin, Live Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

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I’m pretty sure I’ve got Brazilian singer-songwriter Badi Assad down cold. I’m guessing that, as the younger sister of two brothers—Sérgio and Odair, both gifted guitarists—who perform together as Duo Assad, she grew up in their shadow, and knew the only way she’d get out of it was to be bigger, better, bolder. So when Badi takes the stage with her guitar, you don’t just get some supremely supple strumming; you get ravishing singing and jaw-dropping vocal percussion, too. She’d probably have taken up handstands and juggling, if it came to it, but as it happens what she’s got on offer was apparently enough to steal some attention away from her older sibs. She’ll steal yours, as well; she’s basically the dictionary definition of “dynamo,” if the dictionary is Portuguese—meaning she bowls you over more through focused stillness and gentle undulation than any overwhelming display of prowess or volume. Her power is mainly implied; it’s all about control, and hers is exquisite.  Read the rest of this entry »

Knowledge Drop: Redefinitions and Second Chances for Kid Cudi, Pell and Pete Rock

Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Rap, Record Reviews No Comments »

Kid Cudi

By Craig Bechtel

Kid Cudi disappointed many of his loyal fans when he pulled the plug at the last minute on his December tour dates, citing “production and personal problems.” He posted a lengthy note via Twitter, saying among other things, that things “weren’t together production wise and I need a bit to make some changes,” and “I got a lot im [sic] dealing with at this time in my personal life too and in order for the shows to be the best experience possible as well as keeping my sanity intact, I need to regroup.” The disappointment from his audience most likely began when he released “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven,” a rock album brimming over with distorted guitars and grunge-era angst. Kid Cudi may be a talented rapper and have come by his hip-hop bona fides honestly, but this record was not hip-hop. While Hot New Hip Hop gave it a balanced and nuanced review, they couldn’t award it more than a sixty-eight percent, whereas the website’s Fan Rating merited a lackluster twenty-one percent. (Then again, the fans on a heavy metal website would probably have savaged the latest outing from Jurassic 5.) Taken on its own merits, and disregarding genre, “Speedin’ Bullet 2 Heaven” is an extraordinary record, and it’s not like Cudi doesn’t recognize the rules he’s breaking. He even enlists MTV icons Beavis and Butt-Head to provide occasional commentary throughout the double album. Read the rest of this entry »

South Side Jazz Coalition: From DuSable to Obama—by Way of Orbert Davis

Blues, Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »
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Orbert Davis/Photo: Darron Jones

By Corey Hall

Chicago’s origins and present, along with a festival’s rebirth, are celebrated by the South Side Jazz Coalition on January 16. That’s when Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP) performs the score to “DuSable to Obama: Chicago’s Black Metropolis,” a documentary that first aired on WTTW in 2010 and won an Emmy Award. The Coalition’s second fundraising event is designed to raise funds for revitalizing the annual South Shore Jazz Festival, a thirty-one-year ritual that ended in 2012.

Now that the Coalition’s nonprofit status has been secured, it is attracting sponsors, determining a date, securing a lakefront location and selecting musicians for the revived festival, according to Coalition board member Margaret Murphy-Webb. This effort, she added, has been endorsed by Geraldine de Haas—the festival’s founder who, in 2013, relocated to the East Coast with her husband for health reasons—and surrounding communities.

“We expected 150 people at our first fundraiser, held last summer at the Quarry [in South Shore],” Murphy-Webb says. “We seated 180, and a total of 240 people showed up. This event on the sixteenth will seat 500, and we are urging people to get tickets early, because we don’t want to turn anybody away.” Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Getting to Know Tomorrow Never Knows

Festivals, Garage Rock, Hardcore, Live Reviews, R&B, Rock, Singer-Songwriter No Comments »
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JMSN/Photo: Cameron McCool

By Keidra Chaney

It’s that time of year again: the annual winter celebration of indie rock (and occasionally other genres) Tomorrow Never Knows, which takes place at Schubas, Lincoln Hall, Hideout and Metro on January 13-17. If you’re into indie, this is the event to tide you over into the summer festival season, and it’s a great opportunity to check out bands that are on the rise before they hit bigger stages. Here are my picks for bands to check out at TNK 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan/The Green Mill

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »

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If I could understand why certain music genres come into vogue, I’d be a very rich man. As it is, all I can do is marvel at the regularity with which the postmillennium throws us a cultural curve ball, like making a cult sensation of gypsy jazz—a style that hasn’t been much in vogue since Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli were hard at it, way back in the first half of the last century. But if you have any doubt that it’s returned with a vengeance, just insert yourself into the SRO crowd at The Green Mill on any given Wednesday night, when Alfonso Ponticelli and Swing Gitan hold court. Being shy of hyperbole, I balk at citing Ponticelli as Reinhardt’s and Grappelli’s heir, but goddammit, if he isn’t, who is? Read the rest of this entry »

Raw Material: Horn of Not-Quite-Plenty

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »
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Mark Farina

It’s always a bit of a challenge scoping out shows around Thanksgiving because it’s a time period that seems to be overlooked for live music. The presumption is that everyone is out of town and/or spending time with family for the weekend. For those “Thanksgiving orphans” that stick around, or plan to head home early, there’s some good live music to look forward to in the coming weeks, as well as a few unusual and non-performance-based music events that are worth checking out.

Metro offshoot Smart Bar (3730 North Clark), early home of Frankie Knuckles and launching pad for Ministry, is approaching middle age. To celebrate, on Friday, November 20, Smart Bar cleverly celebrates its “33 1/3 Anniversary” with an A-list lineup of DJs and taking up both the Smart Bar and Metro spaces. The show includes Mark Farina, Colette, DJ Heather, Justin Long, Michael Serafini and Garrett David. Tickets are $24 in advance, $30 at the door. The 21+ show starts at 10pm at Smart Bar, 11pm at Metro. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Strayhorn Fringe Festival/Old Town School of Folk Music

Bluegrass, Chicago Artists, Festivals, Funk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

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This is Billy Strayhorn’s centenary, and it’s been heartening to see so much attention paid to a songwriter whose gifts are almost in inverse proportion to his fame—i.e. the former stratospheric, the latter microscopic. Part of the problem is that Strayhorn is so closely associated with Duke Ellington, who was one of the more flamboyantly extrovert of the past century’s geniuses. Another part is that Strayhorn himself was quite happy to reside in Ellington’s shadow. The result is that today people are surprised to learn that tunes indelibly associated with Ellington—such as “Lush Life,” “Chelsea Bridge” and “Take the ‘A’ Train”—are in fact Strayhorn’s compositions. It’s hard for us to think of them in a new way; they’re so bonded to our DNA. Read the rest of this entry »