Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Book Review: “The Empty Bottle” edited by John Dugan

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Indie Rock, New Wave, News and Dish, Pop Punk, Post-punk, Post-Rock, Prog-rock, Protopunk, Psychedelic, Punk, Rock, Rockabilly, Shoegaze No Comments »

EmptyBottle

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I didn’t have high expectations for “The Empty Bottle: 21+ Years of Music / Friendly / Dancing” (especially with that grammatically awkward subtitle; yes, those are the famous call-outs emblazoned on the club’s awning, but in print they look like something translated into Mandarin and then back again). Histories of entertainment venues tend to skew either toward brain-numbing listicles or institutional hagiography. But in fact “The Empty Bottle,” edited by John Dugan, is pure delight; it’s a compendium of short tributes and memoirs by close to two dozen people who have worked, played or hung out at the club, and whose voices are wonderfully varied and engaging. Yes, there are the obligatory recollections of early dates by Nirvana and Arcade Fire, but the cumulative result is something much greater—in fact, a genuine and consistently beguiling social history. Like, if Studs Terkel had been born in 1980. Read the rest of this entry »

Con Brio: Baroque Band to Disband After “L’Arte del Violino”

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Garry Clarke

Garry Clarke

Nine years is a relatively long time for a period-instrument orchestra in Chicago: some twenty-five years ago, the City Musick only made it to six seasons. It’s not that we don’t have the performers and the audience for early music, but lining them up with unified artistic vision and managerial leadership for the long term has thus far remained an elusive formula. Even Music of the Baroque, a modern-instrument ensemble with a long history, managed to survive only after a coup more than a decade-and-a-half ago when its founder was unceremoniously dumped by his own board.

Baroque Band was founded by UK violinist Garry Clarke with the hope of beating the odds, and in its prime, its future looked promising. Clarke and company became the pit band for Chicago Opera Theater’s Baroque operas, all but a memory since the departure of Brian Dickie, but having regrouped somewhat in Haymarket Opera. As it happens, a defection of key players from Baroque Band to Haymarket Opera, and the need to bring in players from the East Coast for BB concerts to compensate, likely contributed to making the current model financially unsustainable. Read the rest of this entry »

Con Brio: Veteran Jazzer Wayne Shorter Finds the Eternal in the Everyday

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Wayne Shorter Photo: Robert Ascroft

Photo: Robert Ascroft

By Dennis Polkow

“There’s something emerging about the unexpected,” says veteran jazz composer and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. “I think the whole world is in kind of a situation where no one can put their finger on what’s going to transpire tomorrow, even to the next moment.

“We were invited to the research lab at Stanford University by some astrophysicists when we played in San Francisco; they wanted to talk about improvisation and what happens when you do something without a so-called plan. They don’t want to separate science from art now. Not only that, but they were talking about that collider in Switzerland, the Big Bang thing, they call it the unfolding.

“I think they’re getting closer to this no-beginning, no-end perception. No real beginning. Like the word beginning might be a temporary crutch until we find out that there’s no word for that, it’s more of a continuance. They’re seeing also another kind of multiverse where it seems like there are no laws that resemble the laws here in this universe. They’re finding that there are multiverses and the possibility that there is another kind of multiverse where what we call time is backwards.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Music Top 5: May 16-31, 2016

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Cyndi Lauper/Photo: Gavin Bond

1
CYNDI LAUPER 
(Chicago Theatre)
From “She Bop” to “Kinky Boots,” girl’s got the decades-in-the-making diva thing down cold. And the pipes are still pipin’ hot.
May 16 Read the rest of this entry »

Music Top 5: May 1-May 15, 2016

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1
HAR MAR SUPERSTAR
(Lincoln Hall)
With his wit, brio and relentlessly infectious hooks, Sean Tillmann is completely rewriting the rules for being a pop star.
May 14 Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Muti on the Mend and on “Falstaff”

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Muti, Riccardo -- 2016 Japanese stamp

By Dennis Polkow

When Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director Riccardo Muti cancelled two weeks of concerts in February, the only details that were released at the time were that he was recovering from a “hip operation” after a “minor accident.”

The timing was odd, as Muti had just completed a tour of the Far East with the CSO. Given the lack of details, international speculation ran rampant that he had injured himself while on tour or even last fall, but had waited to go home for surgery. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

Offbeat: Michael Tiknis to Depart After Making Harris More User Friendly

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Michael Tiknis

Michael Tiknis

By Dennis Polkow

How does a downtown performing arts theater that is less than a dozen years old come to need nearly ten million dollars in renovations?

“When the Harris Theater was designed and built,” Harris Theater president and general managing director Michael Tiknis explains, “Millennium Park was still an idea that was developing organically along with the Harris. Twelve or thirteen years ago, the idea was you could park your car and never go outside into the cold and walk right into the theater.

“It was all designed for you to come into the garage and come in through the lowest level. And when you do that, for the most part, it works very well. But all of the restaurants and Millennium Park being built around it gave rise to a lot more people coming in on upper Randolph than those tiny little elevators were ever designed to hold. And all of those new, surrounding neighborhoods made us realize that what had been designed virtually before Millennium Park and in a vacuum, needed to be rethought as it became a living organic thing with this neighborhood developing. So, it’s not a theater renovation because of age, it’s a theater renovation because of change of use. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Haymarket Debuts Lenten Oratorio Series with “Dangerous” Music

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Haymarket Opera Orchestra, Craig Trompeter (center)

Haymarket Opera Company, Craig Trompeter (center)

By Dennis Polkow

“The unusual element in Stradella’s music is it is dangerous sounding,” says Haymarket Opera artistic director, cellist and violist da gamba Craig Trompeter. “The virtuosity is really pushed to the limits to a scary place where it’s kind of like watching a horror film. We’re somehow fascinated by that as human beings, we want to watch other people in danger.”

Italian composer Alessandro Stradella (1639-1682) led such an unabashedly risqué life that his notorious escapades were the subject of no less than two nineteenth-century operas and a twentieth-century novel.

Often fleeing places where he had been employed to compose, Stradella once escaped Rome over embezzlement of church funds. More often, Stradella’s flights were over scandalous affairs with noblewomen that would find himself at the mercy of enraged aristocratic families who would set out to kill him. One left him half dead, another finally succeeded—when a hired assassin stabbed him to death in a public square in Genoa when Stradella was forty-two years old. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: Philip Glass Comes Home to Chicago

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Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

Philip Glass (left) and David Bowie, 1992

By Dennis Polkow

Composer Philip Glass is coming home. Well, sort of. The high priest of Minimalism, a term Glass has always loathed, will be in residence at the University of Chicago this month. Although it is not the first time Glass has been back to his Hyde Park alma mater, where he was once a mathematics and philosophy major, this is his first official residency there as a Presidential Arts Fellow.

Glass’ residency will include a University of Chicago Presents concert where he and others will perform his Piano Etudes, a screening of the film “Mishima” which Glass scored and will discuss, a free public talk on artistic collaboration and various conversations with students and faculty from across the university.

Chicago was where Glass originally realized—while practicing piano pieces of Charles Ives and Anton Webern—that he wanted to become a composer, although he would head to Juilliard to begin to accomplish that goal. Read the rest of this entry »