Goran Ivanovic is a multiculti wunderkind. A Croatian-born Chicagoan, he plays nylon-string classical guitar, with which he not only unleashes great stampeding Balkan rhythms, but intricate Middle Eastern and Asian-inspired cadences as well. On his trio’s newly released eponymous disc, he’s accompanied by Matt Ulery on electric bass and Pete Tashjian on drums and percussion, with a special guest appearance by Ian Maksin on cello. Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
I miss the glory days of the protest song. Thanks to corporate ownership, these days the major labels are more interested in moving units than in moving society forward. But the fracturing of the market into a dizzying kaleidoscope has at least made it possible for possible heirs to Woody Guthrie to come up through the cracks. Chicago’s Andy Metz isn’t overtly political on his new album, “Delusions,” but he’s definitely the first artist I’ve come across, outside of hip-hop, to tackle the recent epidemic of gun violence. “Guns,” the tune in question, lashes into the macho pretensions of weapons owners with scalding ridicule: “Little Kyle thinks he needs a gun…Despite a sick pickup truck, he ain’t picking up much / Ladies don’t get him, no he’s just tough / So he strokes it every night, ’cause it’s all he’s got now / The only way he’s getting brain is click, click, pow.” Metz’s timing couldn’t be better; the so-called Oregon militia are basically acting out the music video for this tune. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
By Robert Rodi
There isn’t much you can say definitively about The 3.5.7 Ensemble. Depending on the material it’s tackling, it ranges from a trio to a quintet to a septet (hence the name). And though it’s based in Chicago, it’s not entirely a Chicago band; a number of its members hail from farther afield. One thing you can say with reasonable confidence is that these guys are hella ambitious ambitious. This isn’t just a comment on their material, which covers a dizzying spectrum of styles and voices; it’s also a reflection of the fact that some years into the era of downloads and streaming, they’ve gone all 1990s and released not just a CD, but a double CD. When was the last time you set eyes on that brand o’ critter?
Fortunately, the program well supports the extra disc. All the pieces on “Amongst the Smokestacks and Steeples” are original (with the exception of the opener, “Dangurangu,” a Zimbabwean folk tune). Most are written by bassist Chris Dammann and tenor sax man Nick Anaya, but there are credits as well for guitarist Tim Stine and pianist Jim Baker, with improvised works credited to the entire ensemble (rounded out by James Davis on trumpet, Richard Zili on clarinet, and Dylan Andrews on drums). There’s also a credit for Fred Anderson, whose Velvet Lounge was the setting at which at least some of these pieces evolved into their current form. Read the rest of this entry »
I can’t think of better auspices for the new year than the arrival, at the eleventh hour, of Charles Rumback’s “In The New Year.” The Chicago drummer has assembled a quintet of absolutely topflight local players (Caroline Davis on alto sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Jeff Parker on guitar and John Tate on bass) for a thrillingly diverse set of tunes—of which pride of place has to go to the title cut. “In the New Year” is just goddamn glorious. Davis and Stein wail mournfully—like it’s lights-up at the end of an epic New Year’s Eve bash, and they’re facing the first moments of January with soggy, sodden hangovers; meanwhile Parker strums in dreamy self-absorption, and Rumback himself races around the background, like a host trying to fetch up all the empty glasses before they leave rings on the furniture. There’s personality, there’s texture, there’s life itself percolating in this irresistible opening tune.
It’s followed by “Right Reasons,” which begins with a meditative bass line by Tate (with an occasional shimmering commentary by Rumback) that eventually relaxes into a space where Davis and Stein can gambol in and frolic. Rumback rolls alongside them in paternal approval as they romp gorgeously, until, inevitably, they begin to droop in exhaustion; it’s a lovely, spirited arc. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Artists, Folk-rock, Holiday Music, In Memoriam, Interviews, News and Dish, Pop, Prog-rock, Record Reviews, Rock, Singer-Songwriter
By Dennis Polkow
“There is something lacking in a lot of current Christmas music,” admits legendary Chicago singer-songwriter-guitarist Jim Peterik. “A simple thing called spirituality. When it’s only about mistletoe and eggnog, it kind of misses the point. I don’t mind fun Christmas songs, believe me, but there also has to be some substance.”
Peterik’s longtime band, the Ides of March, has released two Christmas albums over the years, and this year, is releasing its third, “The Meaning of Christmas.” “Are we forgetting the meaning of Christmas in all the hoopla? That’s the whole idea: where did Christmas start? Why do we celebrate it? That’s my goal, really. And they’re not all religious or spiritual songs but there’s a thread that’s running through them: let’s not forget the meaning of Christmas.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
The new album by local soul outfit The Congregation is called “Record Collection,” which is exactly perfect, because every single cut sounds like something you had teetering in a waist-high stack of forty-fives in your bedroom circa 1972. (At least, if you’re as old as I am, you did.) The first, eponymous cut lays it all out: “You only love me for my record collection / You say you never felt a deeper connection / Nothing gets you goin’ like my Motown and Stax / Without the record spinnin’ would you like it like that?” I found myself actually picturing the Motown and Stax platter labels while I was listening—Atlantic, Epic and Mercury too.
This is about the point in a review where I usually say something about how the band in question brings a twenty-first century sensibility to an antique genre by a strategic infusion of self-aware blah blah blah. None of that here. The fact is, early seventies soul, funk and R&B form, collectively, such a staggering body of work that when people say they’re approaching it from a post-something-or-other perspective, it usually means they just can’t goddamn play as well as those old cats. But The Congregation is completely unafraid to meet the legends on level ground, without the protective cover of ironic distance—and even if they didn’t get points for sheer swagger, they’d get it for delivering the goods. This is a great album. Read the rest of this entry »
Chamber Music, Chicago Artists, Classical, Experimental, Interviews, Latin, New Music, News and Dish, Orchestral, Record Reviews, Vocal Music, World Music
By Dennis Polkow
“One of my greatest experiences is when things come to you,” admits Peruvian composer Jimmy López. “The first composition I ever wrote came through a dream, I can still remember it. I trust my memory in that sense.”
Some of the musical ideas that come to López remain with him for years before they end up in an actual piece of music. “I try to write things down only after they have already taken a certain shape in my mind. I don’t really like to write down ideas that I feel are premature. There’s a certain plasticity that ideas have when they’re in your mind rather than written down.”
López reveals he has ideas that “I am carrying right now. There is one I have been carrying since at least 2003.” One from 2007 was only recently written down and turned into a finished piece. “It’s a beautiful melody that I never wrote down because I didn’t know what I was going to use it for, I had no idea. I saw the opportunity to use it, finally, it felt perfect.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Robert Rodi
I’m just a hair late to the party when it comes to “No Hotel,” the new album by Chicago’s own neo-vaudeville barnstormers, The Claudettes; but the album (which came out in September) is definitely one you should be spinning, streaming or otherwise ingesting whole. It’s the work of just three players—pianist Johnny Iguana, drummer Michael Caskey and (intermittently) vocalist Yana—but there’s enough energy going on to power your average Third World airport.
The opener, “Big Easy Women,” is full of a barreling, hyper-saloon piano banging, with a bridge that playfully evokes silent-movie peril. But it’s the second cut—“California, Here I Come”—that really makes you sit up and take notice. The Claudettes knock the hoary old Al Jolson tune into a minor key, transforming it into a wittily downbeat comment on the cruelty that so often accompanies the go-west-young-man dream. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicagoan Nick Mazzarella plays alto sax with the kind of virile swagger that yanks you back through the decades to when this kind of strident, unsentimental sound split the whole goddamn twentieth century clean in two. It’s still surprisingly subversive to modern ears—which is why a lot of people run from this kind of fearlessly improvised jazz; it’s not safe—it’s here to challenge, not comfort. And on its new record, “Ultraviolet,” that’s exactly what Mazzarella’s trio does. The tunes were originally composed for a residency at the late, lamented Curio lounge in 2012, and they form a breathtaking free-jazz suite. All the titles relate to scientific inquiry—from the modern (“Neutron Star”) to the archaic (“Abacus and Astrolabe,” “Luminous Dials”), and from wave theory (the title cut) to paleontology (“Archaeopteryx,” “Fossil”). It’s a pretty clear indication that what these guys are about is straight-up investigation—of rhythm, of tone, of harmony—and that silos like classification aren’t going to get in their way. Read the rest of this entry »