Reviews, profiles and news about music in Chicago

Spins: Girl Power plus IQ from Honey & the 45s, Elaine Dame

Alt-Rock, Chicago Artists, Indie Rock, Jazz, Record Reviews, Rock No Comments »

HoneyandThe45s

By Robert Rodi

In the last twenty-five years, women in music have made tremendous strides, building bodies of work that showcase the kind of empowerment, control and sexual bravado that would’ve been unimaginable just a few decades earlier. But for all their power and strength, they rarely manage to project intellect—the quality of being aware of themselves in context; of understanding not just who they are, but what they mean.

Thankfully, we’re beginning to see some cracks in that particular glass ceiling. And one Chicago-native, female-fronted alt-rock band is most definitely doing its part. Honey & the 45s’ new EP, “Mad,” features seven songs that all turn standard love-and-longing narratives on their heads—starting with the title cut, which is a razor-sharp dissection of a woman’s attraction-repulsion complex, in the form of a long screed directed at the guy in the equation. “I hate that you know me, you know me so well,” sings front woman Kristina Cottone, “I hate that you caught me before I fell.” With lyrics like that, you know you’re in fairly literary hands. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Raindrop: Improvisations with Chopin” by Deanna Witkowski

Bossa Nova, Chicago Artists, Classical, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews No Comments »

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On the solo piano “Raindrop,” Witkowski, a former Chicago jazzer, approaches Chopin’s music from a creative point of view—not so much reverent as playful. She begins with a straight take on the downtempo Romantic piece “Nocturne in E-Flat Major,” employing her classical training to convey her interpretation, rather than relying on embellishments. But immediately afterward she launches into “Walking the Labyrinth,” an original composition inspired by the nocturne and created on the spot—a complete improvisation. Read the rest of this entry »

Spins: Power Pop from My My My, Purring Swing from Rose Colella

Chicago Artists, Indie Pop, Jazz, Pop, Record Reviews No Comments »

By Robert Rodi

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Let a hundred-thousand critics give their thoughts on My My My and there’s still one phrase you’ll never read: “stripped-down.” On the night I most recently saw them (November 21 at Double Door, the release party for their new album, “Tigers On the Dance Floor”) there were nine performers on the stage. Their sound—beautifully reproduced on the album—features complex rhythms, multilayered harmonies and a thick synth frosting; yet there’s nothing bloated or mannered or self-conscious about it. This is downright muscular pop music: driven, delirious and out for a goddamn good time.

The band is fronted by two vocalists, Russell Baylin and Sarah Snow, who also write all the lyrics. The music itself is a collaborative effort on the part of the entire group, which includes Ante Gelo on guitar and string synth, Jake Bartolone on bass and Moog, John Sorensen on drums, and John Szymanski on keys and percussion. The only members who don’t seem to do double duty are the backup vocalists, a.k.a. The Peoples, unless you count looking lethally glam while they sing as double duty.

Baylin and Snow are a great match: he growls, she howls, and in their solo numbers their sheer sonic majesty makes you stand up and take notice. But when they duet (as in “Sirens of Soft Persuasion”) they can lift you right off the floor and dangle you there. The tunes are incredibly polished and stuffed with so many hooks they’re like harmonic velcro. A few of them—like “Bleeding” and “When We Kiss”—perform that rarest feat of pop alchemy: sounding utterly fresh and yet also giving you the impression you’ve known and loved them for years—that they’re already bonded to your DNA. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Sketches of Spain [Revisited]” by Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Chamber Ensemble

Big Band, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDChicago Jazz Phil Cover

“Sketches of Spain” is a masterful collaboration by Miles Davis and Gil Evans that has been deconstructed, imitated and recreated by countless musicians over the years, but few have had the audacity to create a new adaptation that would include new material arranged for a philharmonic orchestra. But Chicago-born trumpeter, composer and arranger Orbert Davis (no relation to Miles) stepped up to the plate with a fantastic take on the classic.

The album begins with a seventeen-minute version of “Concierto de Aranjuez” that is faithful to Evans’ original arrangement but completely revisited for an orchestra format. The bandleader performs an accomplished solo that does not copy Miles Davis’ take but retains many of its sonic elements. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “From Brazil to New Orleans” by Charlie Dennard

Forró, Funk, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDFBTNO_cover

“The music, history, food and culture of Brazil and New Orleans have so much in common that it just seems logical to put them together,” writes keyboardist Charlie Dennard on the liner notes for the independently released “From Brazil to New Orleans.” The same has been said by various Crescent City musicians I have interviewed over the years, because the liveliness and musicality of cities like Rio de Janeiro and Salvador makes them feel right at home. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Krom” by Krom

Chicago Artists, Jazz, Record Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDKROM

On their self-titled second release, the jazz fusion trio led by Chicago-born pianist Adam Kromelow and rounded out by bassist Raviv Markovitz and drummer Jason Burger comes up with a collection of nine original songs penned by Kromelow and arranged by the group. The album kicks off with “Savior Complex,” which begins with a keyboard-pounding, rhythmically strong intro, and then evolves into a mellower mood. Markovitz contributes a fluid solo halfway through the tune, and then the tune picks up again. “The Experiment” is an uptempo tour de force played in double time. The tune’s style is reminiscent of Japanese pianist Hiromi Uehara, who also tends to write in quick tempos. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Eternal” by Jamie O’Neal

Alt-Country, Country, Country folk, Record Reviews No Comments »

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Australian-born country singer Jamie O’Neal has had a pretty difficult relationship with Nashville labels since she arrived on the scene in 2000. Over the years, she has signed and parted ways with several of them, including Mercury and Capitol, until she decided to follow the independent route and start her own label, Momentum Label Group.

“Eternal” is a strong album, which brings together original songs alongside a handful of covers. Among those is a straightforward version of Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make it Through the Night,” a tune that was a hit for fellow Aussie Olivia Newton-John on her debut album and that was also covered by several other artists, including Elvis Presley and Gladys Knight. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Jobim Tribute” by Les Sabler

Bossa Nova, Jazz, Latin, Record Reviews, Samba, World Music No Comments »

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Among Brazilian composers recognized internationally, you could certainly say that Antônio Carlos Jobim compares to none other so far—he is one of the few whose body of work is just as respected as that of Gershwin or Harold Arlen. However, few contemporary fans know his work beyond “The Girl From Ipanema,” “Corcovado (Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars),” “Desafinado” or maybe “Waters of March” simply because his other songs have been absent from jazz songbooks of late. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Amor Planeta” by Pacifika

Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Dance Pop, Indie Pop, Latin, Pop, Psychedelic, Record Reviews, Reggae, Rock, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDPacifika_Amor_Planeta

On their third release, the Vancouver-based trio formed by vocalist Silvana Kane, guitarist/producer Adam Popowitz and bassist Toby Peter seem to be taking the music into a deeper, more psychedelic direction without completely losing touch with their Latin, Middle Eastern and electronic roots. The songs are still framed by near-whispered vocals and nylon-guitar-framed textures alongside multi-tracked instruments and vocals sung mostly in Spanish, but the trio seems to have found a more organic approach to their sound. Read the rest of this entry »

Record Review: “Bailar En La Cueva” by Jorge Drexler

Afro-Cuban, Alt-Rock, Bossa Nova, Cumbia, Forró, Hip-Hop, Latin, Merengue, Pop, Record Reviews, Rock, Samba, Tropicalismo/Tropicália, World Music No Comments »

RECOMMENDEDJorgeDrexler_Bailar_CDcover

On his most diverse release to date, Uruguayan singer-songwriter Jorge Drexler—best known Stateside for being the sole composer to date to win an Oscar for a non-English song—goes into various musical styles to convey his message. The title song mixes electronic and folk elements with a syncopated beat and a catchy chorus, while “Bolivia” blends forró and cumbia. A berimbau (a Brazilian instrument commonly used in capoeira meets) leads the beat.

Legendary Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso makes a cameo appearance toward two verses in Spanish with a melody that goes against the song’s entire form. “La Luna de Rasquí” is an upbeat tune with Afro-Caribbean elements that is sure to get you moving. “Universos Paralelos” is arguably the most inventive track–it begins with an easygoing samba-like feel and the vocals of Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux (who seems to be all over Latin pop lately) comes almost out of nowhere to give her bit on the topic of star-crossed lovers. Read the rest of this entry »