Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Preview: Spektral Quartet/Curtiss Hall

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Live Reviews, New Music No Comments »

Spektral Quartet


Like most current chamber ensembles, Chicago’s Spektral Quartet carefully anchors its programs of new music with pieces from the standard repertoire; the theory, I’m guessing, is that the players feel obliged to reward audience members for sitting patiently through difficult, dissonant modern works by offering them a familiar bit of Schubert or Schumann—the same way you’d toss a tasty biscuit to a dog who’s successfully held a sit-stay. But Spektral is better than most at conveying how those earlier pieces fit on the same continuum as the newer ones—often conjuring the sense of disorientation and even danger that their original audiences would have heard in them. For the opening of its new season, however, the Quartet is throwing itself an extra curve by adding a spatial element to its performance. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Vincent Davis Percussion Plus/Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, New Music No Comments »



Jazz is a collaborative art form, but you can hang out on the scene a long time before you hit a happening where one of the collaborators is a visual artist. When that occurs, odds are the collaborator in question is Lewis Achenbach, who’s spent the past few years turning painting into a performing art by improvising on canvas alongside the city’s most adventurous jazz and new-music players. For Chicago Artists’ Month, Achenbach once again has the good fortune to hook up with Vincent Davis Percussion Plus, an ensemble of topflight free-jazz players. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bottoms/The Hideout

Chicago Artists, Drag, Hip-Hop, Live Reviews, Pop Punk No Comments »



The screamcore reputation of Jake Dibeler, the gutter drag performance artist, lyricist and lead singer of Bottoms, totally precedes him. If the gritty photos of this unique vocalist—writhing and singing on venue floors in pumps and a red wig like a drugged-up mermaid—don’t entice you, then maybe the dreary dance vibes of this electroclash-inspired trio will. In the short amount of time since their “Goodbye” EP release in January, this rather bent art-punk trio has completely swept the Internet and all of New York off their feet. With JD Samson’s stamp of approval and a quick signing to budding label Atlas Chair, the band seems to have adamantly set their pulsating and playful agit-noise toward global domination. Well, maybe that’s an overstatement, but some form of sub-dom subversions will definitely be aroused if you check out Bottoms for Chances Dances’ ten-year anniversary month of festivities and exhibits. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ibeyi/Thalia Hall

Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

Ibeyi's self-titled debut album comes out Feb. 1


Chicago is blessed with the return of global sensations Ibeyi (pronounced ee-bey-ee), for a second performance in one year. French-Cuban twins Lisa-Kaindé Diaz and Naomi Diaz, who sing in both Yoruba and English, are the daughters of late Cuban percussionist Miguel “Angá” Diaz of Irakere and Buena Vista Social Club fame. Angá died in 2006 when the twins were only eleven; tragedy stuck again in 2013 when they lost a sister, Yanira. They grew up mostly in Paris and credit their French-Venezuelan mother, a singer, with inspiring their love of West African Yoruba culture (brought to Cuba by slaves in the 1700s). Naomi plays percussion, mixing hip-hop and Afro-Cuban beats on the cajón and Batás, and handles production while Lisa, the primary vocalist, plays piano and concentrates on composition. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Slim Twig/The Empty Bottle

Alt-Rock, Indie Rock, Live Reviews, Rock No Comments »

Photo: Carly Sioux


One of the problems that comes with being a music critic of a certain age, is that when a young twenty-something artist starts impressing you with similarities to seventies-era acts like The Beatles, David Bowie and T. Rex, you can’t be sure whether it’s because those acts are still that influential, or whether they’re just still influencing you. But after getting deeper into Slim Twig’s new album, “Thank You For Stickin’ With Twig,” it’s pretty clear that the former is the case. Hell, one of his tunes, “A Woman’s Touch,” is actually about The Beatles—or rather, about the role (decisive yet disrespected) of the mop-tops’ women in their success. “The wives became the enemies,” Twig sings, “Of screaming fans who never ceased / While holed up down at Abbey Road / The boys were baring rubber souls / So who wrote the songs? / Who dressed the men? / How did they know what to do then? / It’s the only story told.” The sound recalls the deliberately low-fi, analogue sonics of the Fab Four’s later years, but that feminist angle turns the tune straight-up postmillennial. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: World Music Fest Brings Musical Adventures From Around the Globe to Town

Festivals, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »

Aziz Sahmaoui

By Gail Dee

The seventeenth annual World Music Festival Chicago hits town September 11-22, bringing musical adventures from across the globe. It’s the largest festival of its kind in the U.S., yet appallingly many Chicagoans have never heard of it; you can help spread the word. Completely free to the public since 2012, this cultural feast is absolutely no risk—enjoy just a nibble or consume the whole bounty. This year there are more than fifty different artists from twenty-six countries represented in sixty performances.

Unlike other festivals produced by the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, WMF is spread out among eighteen different venues, including Martyrs’, Mayne Stage, City Winery, Chicago Cultural Center, Old Town School of Folk Music, The Promontory, Museum of Contemporary Art and Jay Pritzker Pavilion. You can pick up a printed schedule or check it out online. This year the city is also experimenting with a new phone app called Eventfest, to help you navigate the various performances. Some venues—like Mayne Stage and Old Town School—allow you to reserve tickets; I highly recommend this for the only performance by Manitoba artist Tanya Tagaq, which complements a screening of the 1922 silent film “Nanook of the North” on September 19 at the Museum of Contemporary Art (220 East Chicago); it will definitely sell out. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Fred Hersch Trio/Chicago Jazz Festival

Festivals, Jazz, Live Reviews No Comments »



Jazz Fest ambles into town the first weekend of September, and as usual there’s a sense of having waited for the larger and noisier summer festivals to yield the lakefront in exhaustion, so that the grownups can move in and get down to the serious business of making serious music. Among the many highlights will be Friday’s appearance by composer/pianist Fred Hersch, whose latest CD release is a solo outing (entitled, rather unenterprisingly, “Solo”) that’s garnering ecstatic reviews from the cognoscenti. But for Jazz Fest he’ll be heading up his trio, which includes bassist John Hebert and drummer Eric McPherson. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Black and Brown Punk Show/Various venues

Chicago Artists, Festivals, Live Reviews, Punk No Comments »

Moor Mother Goddess


Back in 2013 I first wrote about the Black and Brown Punk Show; sadly my comments about Chicago’s diverse but largely segregated rock music scene pretty much still stand two years later. But I want to call attention to this year’s festival as it’s an overlooked gem of an event that our city has the honor of hosting annually.

Over two days, twenty-plus punk acts come to the city in an all-ages celebration of Chicago’s multiracial, DIY punk scene that is also a safe space for queer and trans folks of color. Read the rest of this entry »

Global Sounds: From Desert Blues to Peruvian Psychedelia

Festivals, Live Reviews, World Music No Comments »


By Gail Dee

Tinariwen, an ensemble from the Sarahan desert of Mali (coming to Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln, August 26, 8pm, $38/$36 members), is the Tuareg band upon which we measure all the rest, because it’s desert blues at its finest. The group’s first performance in Chicago was in 2004 at the Chicago Cultural Center and they have been back several times. (One unforgettable night in 2011, after growling unhappily at Metro’s staff for putting me in second-floor handicapped seating far from the stage because I was on a crutch, I serendipitously ended up dancing with the Tuareg ladies who were part of the tour—the stage door opens upstairs to a reserved seating area!) Their style of music is considered to be the roots of the American blues; it’s trance-inducing, and as expansive as the desert, with band members trading electric-guitar riffs like heat shimmering on the horizon. The simple rhythms are reminiscent of camels walking in the sand for hundreds of miles. Lyrics speak of sadness and rebellion, as these nomadic people have endured civil unrest and war in their homeland for many years. However, the same night I was happily grooving on a crutch with the lovely ladies in long robes, my companion—a jazz drummer—was critical of what he called repetitive rhythm and thought the graceful, languorous movement of the dancers wasn’t much. I reminded him of the Saharan heat and said I didn’t think it would be the place for break-dancing. Personally I’ve never been disappointed by Tinariwen. Read the rest of this entry »

Frozen in Time: Scott Hesse Trio Brings Stirring “Stillness” to Constellation

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Live Reviews, Record Reviews No Comments »

The Trio, 5-13-15

By Corey Hall

Envision the Aqua Tower, 225 North Columbus Drive, on its side in black and white. This image could be in motion but is actually frozen in time with a watery, wave-like feel, as created through photographer Scott Hesse’s lens. This image—complete with color and complementary crop by a graphic designer–is the cover art for Hesse’s trio’s new album, “The Stillness of Motion,” whose CD release party is on August 14 at Constellation.

Hesse, a Chicago-based jazz guitarist who has performed with Greg Ward, Dee Alexander and Ernest Dawkins, among many others, believes that recording music is similar to documenting life through photography. “This music is very fluid and always changing, but when you capture it on a recording, it freezes moments in time, like what happens in a picture,” says Hesse, who is joined on the album by bassist Clark Sommers and drummer Makaya McCraven. “You can definitely hear the movement and evolutions taking place… but it’s never going to be that way again.” Read the rest of this entry »