Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Dave McDonnell bids Chicago adieu

Posted By on 07.22.09 at 05:04 PM

3879/1248289085-l_dc9ba9c7a22b8eeeebf97d5852ac6314.jpgDave McDonnell’s name may not ring a bell, but he’s one of the more ubiquitous and multifaceted figures on Chicago’s sprawling musical map. Last week he played the Pitchfork Music Festival with his band Michael Columbia. A week earlier he was at the Hungry Brain with the superb postbop sextet Herculaneum. The DePaul grad was a founding member of Bablicon, he has a solo project called the Diminisher, and over the years he’s collaborated with the likes of Olivia Tremor Control, Need New Body, and Icy Demons.

In September he’s leaving town to pursue a doctorate in composition at the University of Cincinnati, though he says he’ll be back sporadically to play. He still has several gigs lined up before he leaves, but tomorrow night he’s giving a semiformal farewell to Chicago with a concert at Elastic featuring some of his most significant work.

The first half of the program will focus on McDonnell’s classical-music side, which I was unaware of until a week ago. Violinist Andra Kulans, trombonist Evan Spacht, vibist Jason Adasiewicz, pianists Jeff Kowalkowski and Kate Bradfield, and McDonnell himself (on sine-wave organ) will play a number of his pieces. I’ve only heard two of them, but they both suggest the same breadth of ideas and approaches he reveals in his other work. “Blossom Hunter” is a fierce trombone showcase set amid itchy piano interjections, hovering electronic tones, and violin drones; Spacht executes the harrowing lines, chockablock with low-end glissandos and guttural smears, with impressive precision and drama. “Viola Solo for Stefan Wolpe” pays homage to the 20th-century composer with stark, slashing phrases, pizzicato exclamations, and jarring, sophisticated tonality. The ensemble will perform three other pieces by McDonnell as well.

The second set will feature his fine jazz quintet the Hats, whose lineup also includes cornetist Josh Berman, bassist Anton Hatwich, Adasiewicz, and drummer Dylan Ryan, one of his steadiest collaborators. The band hasn’t released any recordings yet, but a studio session and several live gigs I’ve caught over the past couple years make plain that it could’ve been one of the city’s best combos if only it had played more regularly. McDonnell’s tunes and the group's sound recall Blue Note's more avant-garde 60s records, and Adasiewicz’s kaleidoscopic improvisations particularly bring to mind the sessions that included vibist Bobby Hutcherson. The music is clearly rooted in swing grooves, and McDonnell’s arrangements have plenty of built-in space despite their rigorous themes, allowing for generous, unimpeded solo action.

Today’s playlist:

Thomas Mapfumo & the Acid Band, Hokoyo! (Water)
John Hébert, Byzantine Monkey (Firehouse 12)
Allen Toussaint, The Bright Mississippi (Nonesuch)
Freddie Hubbard, Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 (Blue Note)
Peter Rehberg, Work for GV, 2004-2008 (Editions Mego)

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