Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Raw Material: Every Day Is Not Halloween

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Chicago's Creepy Band

Creepy Band

By Keidra Chaney

The summer concert season in Chicago is a distant memory and the idea of heading out in the pre-Polar Vortex cold to see live music is less than appealing. Still, it’s fall in Chicago and our last gasp before we collectively nest until winter comes in the form of Halloween: more specifically Halloween parties and concerts. Other cities do Halloween, of course, but Chicago’s brutal winters and love of live music means that we tend to take Halloween a bit more seriously. (I would say only Seattle does it better.)

With Halloween falling on a Friday this year, there’s even more choices for the evening, which could be great or potentially a hot mess depending on one’s love for tribute/cover bands and tolerance for sharing the evening with costumed binge drinkers in “sexy” costumes. Read the rest of this entry »

Offbeat: The Lightness of Lyric and the Density of ICE

Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Indian Classical, Jazz, New Music, News and Dish, Vocal Music, World Music No Comments »
Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

Claire Chase/Photo: Stephanie Berger

By Dennis Polkow

Since 2013, flutist and International Contemporary Ensemble founder and artistic director Claire Chase has been on active search of a new “Density,” a reference to Edgard Varèse’s 1936 seminal flute piece “Density 21.5” (the title referred to the density of platinum, a premium flute material) a revolutionary piece of music that “forever changed the definition of the flute, humankind’s oldest instrument.”

Chase is looking to have commissioned and premiered the twenty-first-century equivalent of “Density” before the work’s centennial in 2036, at which time Chase will be fifty-eight. Chase’s search thus far has led her to offer world premieres of more then one-hundred new works for flute, many written specifically for her.

“Density 2036: part ii” presents a seventy-minute program of new works for flute and electronics (Levy Lorenzo, engineer) by George Lewis, Matthias Pintscher, Felipe Lara, Mario Diaz de León and Du Yun as Chase offers her first solo performance as Northwestern University’s Bienen School’s Institute for New Music’s 2014-15 resident artist. At $8 a ticket ($5 for students with ID) and with Varèse’s “Density” included as a finale along with a post-concert Q&A with Chase, that is a density deal. November 5, 7:30pm, Lutkin Hall, 700 University Place, Evanston, (847)467-4000.

Lyric Laughs at Its Age
November 1, 1954 was the date that Lyric Theatre of Chicago, later Lyric Opera of Chicago, came into being and the company is celebrating with a one-night-only all-star 60th Anniversary Concert and Diamond Ball on the actual anniversary date. The tone looks to be light and celebratory rather than the more formal affair that commemorated the company’s fiftieth anniversary a decade ago, since which some key company figures and artists associated with Lyric’s early years have passed away.

Emmy Award-winning actress Jane Lynch, who plays coach Sue Sylvester on the television series “Glee,” will serve as master of ceremonies and Second City will present a series of skits across the evening. Renée Fleming will traverse “Over the Rainbow” with jazz pianist Ramsey Lewis as accompanist and Eric Owens will sing “Ol’ Man River.”

Sir Andrew Davis will lead the Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus and members and alumni of the Ryan Opera Center as well as a roster that includes Stephanie Blythe, Johan Botha, Christine Goerke, Susan Graham, Quinn Kelsey, Mariusz Kwiecien, Ana María Martínez, Marina Rebeka and Amber Wagner. (Previously announced Sondra Radvanovsky and Samuel Ramey will not be appearing.) Tickets for the concert only start at $75 and all concert-goers receive a hardbound copy of the commemorative book, “60 Lyric Moments.” 6:30pm, November 1, Civic Opera House, 20 North Wacker, (312)332-2244.

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Beyond the Aria: J’nai Bridges with Craig Terry/Photo: Marcin Cymmer.

Journeys of the Voice
Harris Theater Presents, in conjunction with Lyric Opera’s Lyric Unlimited, has inaugurated an innovative new season-long vocal concert series called “Beyond the Aria.” The series is an outgrowth of Harris’ Tenth Anniversary Gala last fall when Harris president and managing director Michael Tiknis asked Ryan Opera Center director Craig Terry how Harris might collaborate with Lyric or the Ryan Center.

“What we ended up with was something that combined both,” says Terry, the curator, artistic advisor and accompanist of the series. Each concert spotlights two internationally known opera singers concurrently performing in Lyric Opera productions, appearing alongside of a current member of the Ryan Center.

The debut of the series featured soprano Ana María Martínez, baritone Bo Skovhus and Ryan Center mezzo-soprano J’nai Bridges singing a wide range of genres including zarzuela, opera, lieder, operetta, chansons, jazz, Broadway and songs from the American songbook and featured cabaret-style seating with table service on the enclosed stage of Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion.

“I asked that everyone love the songs that they sing,” says Terry, “and we wanted the experience to be more relaxed than a regular concert hall. I had played on the Pritzker stage and it really is the perfect space: the idea is the rare pleasure to hear really great singers up close and personal in an intimate space.”

The next “Beyond the Aria” program features mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe (Azucena in the company’s current “II Trovatore”), baritone Quinn Kelsey (Count di Luna in “II Trovatore”) and Ryan Center soprano Laura Wilde. November 10, 7:30pm Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777, from $35.

Soumik Datta

Soumik Datta

East and West
East meets West in Fulcrum Point New Music Project’s eclectic evening of classical and contemporary Indian music and dance called “Mirror of Enlightenment” that includes “Mara,” an enlightenment tale that depicts the life of the Buddha performed by Chicago-based Indian classical dance company Kalapriya Dance.

Twenty-five Fulcrum Point musicians will merge Messiaen and Mingus with Indian composer Param Vir to present the U.S. premiere of Vir’s “Raga Fields, Concerto for Sarod and Ensemble” featuring British-Bengali sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta as soloist.

Tabla master and Indian percussionist Kalyan Pathak will collaborate with sarod player Datta and Fulcrum Point founder/conductor/trumpeter Stephen Burns for the improvisational work “Rageshri” and will perform his own work  joined by his own ensemble, the Jazz Mata Trio. The program will conclude with Shirish Korde’s “Lalit,” a duet for flute and tabla featuring Pathak and Fulcrum Point flutist Mary Stolper. November 1, 7:30pm, Millennium Park’s Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. $20 ($10 for students).

Notable Excursions
Guitarist extraordinaire John Abercrombie will perform with his revised quartet, which includes pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron, the same personnel on Abercrombie’s latest album, “39 Steps.” Abercrombie and Copland were both members of the Chico Hamilton Quartet and the fusion jazz-rock group Dreams back in the 1970s, but both have returned to more straight-ahead jazz as this group reflects. October 30-November 2, Jazz Showcase, 806 South Plymouth, (312)360-0234, from $20.

Attempting to fuse arts, science and culture in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries is the object of “The Galileo Project: Music of the Spheres” with the Canadian period instrument ensemble Tafelmusik. Narration, choreography and music by Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Bach and Handel will be performed to a backdrop of high-definition images from the Hubble telescope. November 7, 7:30pm, University of Chicago’s Logan Center, 915 East 60th, (773)702-2787, $35 ($5 students with ID).

Newberry Consort’s “Música Barocca Mexicana” features eighteenth-century music of the New World for voices, violins, guitar, theorbo, harpsichord and cello reconstructed as performed at the cathedral in Durango, one of Mexico’s important music centers. Newly discovered masterpieces are included with many U.S. premieres of works by Ignacio Jerusalem, Santiago Billoni, Manuel de Sumaya and others. November 7-9, various locales, (773)669-7335, from $35.

Following up on its traversal of a complete Beethoven string quartet cycle two years ago and a complete Bartók string quartet cycle last season, this year the gifted and energetic Avalon Quartet is performing a complete Brahms string quartet cycle at the Art Institute. This exquisite Sunday afternoon series includes other pieces that influenced—or have been influenced by—Brahms, followed by illuminating gallery walks that tie together revolutions in music, painting and sculpture. Brahms Quartet No. 3, Op. 67 in B-flat Major and the Debussy Quartet are the pairings in this second of a four-concert season-long series. November 9, 2pm, Fullerton Hall, 111 South Michigan, (312)443-3600, free with museum admission.

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2014

Blues, Chicago Artists, Classical, Country, Electronic/Dance, Experimental, Folk, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, R&B, Rock, Soul No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Photo: Joe Mazza of BraveLux

Chicago, you are a big, bold, beautiful city of infinite complexity. Your historical heritage, your social and political upheaval, your segregation, violence and corruption have birthed an incredible wealth of musical expression. It’s by virtue of these artists that our community confronts and escapes the mistakes of our metropolis. And so our publication listens intently, offering a nuanced dialogue with the musicians who craft our culture. Yet, once a year, we redirect our approach to the opposing swing of the pendulum. We zoom-out where we would normally zoom-in. This list offers a broad-stroke survey of those Chicago musicians whose current cultural currency is readily represented to the city and to the rest of the world, living artists whose quantifiable influence echoes their effect. Some big names are missing, some rankings seem arbitrary, but it’s toward these acts, firmly Chicagoan, that we look when we seek out the spirit of home. Where our words might fail, the music will not. (Kenneth Preski)

Music 45 was written by Kenneth Preski, Dennis Polkow, John Wilmes, Jessica Burg, Robert Szypko, Eric Lutz, Keidra Chaney, Reilly Gill, Corey Hall and Dave Cantor

All photos taken on location at The Hideout by Joe Mazza of BraveLux. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Store Day 2014: The Good, The Bad, and The Huh? How the hoopla plays out for a record store regular

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By Kenneth Preski

The GoodOutkast - Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik

Outkast “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik” (Legacy)
Only issued once on vinyl, back when it was first released in 1994, the duo’s debut effort is worthy of re-evaluation in the wake of Andre 3000 and Big Boi’s first touring stint in six years. Outkast is headlining Lollapalooza, and one suspects Andre’s got the itch to rap given his numerous guest verse appearances since 2007. He raps all over “Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik,” so it’s likely some deep cuts will make their way to a wider audience this summer, reminding the festival circuit just where and who and what Outkast represents—right there in the album title.

Gil Scott-Heron “Nothing New” (XL Recordings)
Taken from the same sessions that produced “I’m New Here,” this posthumous collection, limited to three-thousand copies, presents Gil Scott-Heron as singer-songwriter, performing fresh takes on two decades worth of compositions, now rendered immediate through the same throaty vocal that made his swan song LP such a painful and rewarding listen. When contrasted with the original versions of his tunes from the eighties, “Nothing New” provides a welcome facelift for the material, settling the legendary poet’s spirit by surrounding it with minimal frill. Voice paired with a piano yields a candid document of a life well-spent in pursuit of truth. Read the rest of this entry »

In Memoriam: Frankie Knuckles, 1955-2014

Chicago Artists, Electronic/Dance, House, In Memoriam, News and Dish 1 Comment »

Frankie-KnucklesBy Keidra Chaney

There was no better gauge of Frankie Knuckles’ influence on the global electronic music community than when word of the DJ/producer’s passing hit social media on the evening of March 31st. Within a half hour after the news of his death was first posted online–even before it was officially confirmed by journalists–Twitter and Facebook were flooded with condolences, memories and musical tributes. He was born in 1955 in The Bronx as Francis Nicholls, but in so many ways Frankie Knuckles belonged to Chicago. He made his mark on the city’s underground dance scene by spinning at The Warehouse in the late 1970s (where house music got its name) and became one of the first marquee names in the electronic music scene. Frankie Knuckles was widely known as the “Godfather of House.” It was an esteemed title he accepted with great responsibility during his career, as he served as an ambassador for house music in clubs across the world, but even that title understates the enduring imprint of his work on contemporary EDM and club culture.

Knuckles once referred to house as “disco’s revenge.” As a genre, the birth of house music was somewhat of a happy accident, a response to disco’s waning mainstream popularity in the late seventies and early eighties. In a 2011 radio interview on BBC 6, Knuckles attributes the invention of house as, quite simply, a career move. “It all came from me… trying to keep my dance floor interested and coming to the club every week after disco was declared ‘dead.’” Knuckles said. “I was already playing R&B, it was just a matter of me refashioning so that it could fit the dance floor.” Inspired by Philly Soul, the Europop and Italian disco scenes in Europe, and his own experimentation with reel-to-reel track editing and drum machines, Knuckles created a gloriously pulsating patchwork of genres that became its own original, influential style. You can hear his masterwork in the hypnotic synth of his seminal 1987 track “Your Love,” or the driving hi-hat of 1989’s eternal dance floor anthem, “Move Your Body.” Read the rest of this entry »

For the Record: Inside Chicago’s Crate Digging Culture

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040314By Kenneth Preski

The best music criticism has no author. It resides in the soul of the listener, enveloped in sound, sitting centered on a couch, fixed between two body-sized speakers. Instinctive insights from tweeter to woofer, spirit basking in full frequency warmth; the type of hypnosis that makes you forget you’re hearing a recording at all. It isn’t spoken or explained, analyzed or dissected. It’s in the sway of your hips, and the way your head bobs; whatever makes your fist pump, or gives you goosebumps. Electrical impulses recorded and reanimated, melding minds distanced by time.

The truth about music comes from the singer of the song connecting to the listener at home. Though digital technology is the overwhelming favored medium for consumers of recorded sound, CDs fail as a physical product because what is contained therein is so easily procured elsewhere. The internet ended the era of the compact disc. Vinyl remains lucrative because it cannot be replaced by anything other than another record. So begins the collector’s choice: do you store your music inside of a computer, or inside of a crate? Analog enthusiasts answer the question on the basis of liveliness. Here are five Chicagoans who have dedicated their lives to collecting records. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2013: Music

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Top 5 Releases of 2013
Swirlies, “Complete Discography” (Sneaky Flute Empire)
Bill Orcutt, “A History of Every One” (Editions Mego)
Kanye West, “Yeezus” (Def Jam)
Chance The Rapper, “Acid Rap” (self-released)
Allen Toussaint, “Songbook” (Rounder)
—Kenneth Preski

Top 5 Electronic Albums of 2013
DJ Rashad, “Double Cup” (Hyperdub)
Rashad Becker, “Traditional Music of Notional Species Vol. I” (Pan)
Emptyset, “Recur” (Raster-Noton)
Grouper, “The Man Who Died in His Boat” (Kranky)
ÄÄNIPÄÄ, “Through A Pre-Memory” (Editions Mego)
—Kenneth Preski

Read the rest of this entry »

Marc Ruvolo Sells Out: Johann’s Face and Bucket O’ Blood Owner Plans to Play the World

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MarcRuvoloBy Craig Bechtel

Although Marc Ruvolo has toured a fair bit, he’s lived in Chicago all his life. From a couch in the Logan Square apartment he shares with his partner, Ruvolo, the forty-seven-year-old former lead singer for punk rockers No Empathy, and more recently of Das Kapital and The Fur Coats and owner of record label Johann’s Face, explains what has prompted him to sell most of what he owns and embark on a global adventure.

Up until two weeks ago, Ruvolo was also the owner of Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records in Logan Square, but now he’s sold the store he built from the ground up over three years to some longtime customers. Selling the store had always been part of his plan, although at the beginning he didn’t know whether it would be a success. “I like challenges,” he says, and given he had never worked in retail before, he knew he would have to “work hard and bust ass… I put all my energy into it, in the hopes that I would sell it and then head out and travel the world and play music.” Read the rest of this entry »

Death Grips to Chicago: You Got Gamed

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deathgripsBy John Wilmes

Scheduled into one of the headlining sets of Lollapalooza’s second day, and for a sold-out performance at The Bottom Lounge, the night prior, Sacramento-based band Death Grips (described variously as noise rock, noise rap, experimental rap and thrash rap) skipped it all. At The Bottom Lounge there was only a large projection of a fan’s suicide note behind the stage, and the venue’s announcement, moments after they themselves had learned, that the band wouldn’t be coming. In a reaction of incalculable irony, fans then rushed the stage to destroy the band’s equipment, as Death Grips’ angry, caustic tones played over the P.A.—but it later came out that this was not, in fact, their equipment. The next morning, it became clear that they never even got on a plane, and their Lollapalooza set was cancelled. Everyone had been gamed.

The internet exploded with this news. And this wasn’t the first time that Death Grips has scorned their fans, eager to see them—they’ve cancelled large stretches of tours, before, to work on new material instead—or upset the booking and distribution titans of the industry, either. Their most recent album, “No Love Deep Web,” was set to be released by Epic, but the band released it for free instead, on their website, with an erect penis on the cover art. An act of defiance that, after Death Grips refused to undo it, had them dropped from the label. Read the rest of this entry »

Music 45: Who Keeps Chicago in Tune 2013

Chicago Artists, Classical, Electronic/Dance, Festivals, Hip-Hop, Jazz, Music 45, Rock No Comments »
Cover by Colin Denney

Cover by Colin Denney

Music is alive and well and living in Chicago.

While that once might have meant records and radio and bands being signed to major labels, it’s a much more complex score these days, with artists and venues more entrepreneurial than ever. But at the core is the shift in emphasis from recorded to live music, and it’s a change that’s made Chicago a town of festivals, from the city’s bedrock blues, jazz, gospel and world music festivals, to Lollapalooza and Pitchfork, to the new electronic dance music festivals—Spring Awakening, Wavefront and North Coast—as well as the explosive growth of an old one, the Chosen Few DJs Picnic. With these shifts, the players are changing too; since we last made this list of the behind-the-scenesters, the power list if you will, most of the list has changed. This year’s forty-five include twenty-six folks who were not on the list that last time in 2009. (Brian Hieggelke)

Music 45 was written by Brian Hieggelke, Dennis Polkow and Kenneth Preski, with additional contributions by Dave Cantor, Keidra Chaney, Dylan Peterson, John Wilmes and B. David Zarley. See previous years here. Read the rest of this entry »