When Philadelphia modern-soul singer Bilal Oliver released his 2001 debut, 1st Born Second, he was poised to be the next big thing out of the Soulquarians collective, which also included D’Angelo, ?uestlove, and J Dilla. But during the decade that he kept his modest following waiting for a second album, the jazz-bred vocalist seemed to do little more than sing hooks on hip-hop tracks for artists such as Common, Little Brother, and Clipse. In 2010, when he finally dropped Airtight’s Revenge, it was worth the wait—he found a sharp edge he’d previously missed. He advances that sound on his recent third album, A Love Surreal (Entertainment One), whose title makes a not-so-subtle wink to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. The single “West Side Girl” makes his debt to Prince obvious, but on most of the album Bilal makes it harder to parse his influences by scrambling them together—the small-scale electronic soul of Timmy Thomas; the earthy, tightly coiled R&B of D’Angelo; the late-night humidity of current urban jazz, represented by pianist Robert Glasper, who guests on the album; the idiosyncratic melodies of Stevie Wonder. On love songs colored with uncertainty and disappointment as well as desire, his voice alternates between a raspy yet malleable falsetto and a throaty, declamatory high tenor. Bilal’s current material isn’t as hooky as the work of, say, Frank Ocean or Miguel, but they’d be less likely to exist if he never had—and he’s got a stylistic breadth and depth of feeling all his own. —Peter Margasak PJ Morton and Avery Sunshine open. $35, $30 in advance
Carol Horton, Ph.D., leads an "experiential discussion" on modern yoga, drawing examples from her books 21st Century Yoga: Culture, Politics, and Practice and Yoga Ph.D.: Integrating the Life of the Mind and the Wisdom of the Body.
This young couple walked by me as I headed up the street after seeing Charles Mee's Big Love at Strawdog Theatre. They were probably in their late teens, early 20s. The boy put the girl in a headlock and kissed the part in her hair. She laughed, but in a fakey, uncertain way, like she hadn't quite decided whether she should be pissed or pleased. Still, when he let go, she stuck with him. And there you have it: the paradoxical, not to say creepy, glory of love. A headlock and a kiss. Big Love draws wisdom from that paradox. An oddball yet deadly serious update on Aeschylus's The Suppliants, it tells the tale of 50 (yes, 50) Greek sisters whose father has promised them in marriage to their 50 male cousins. Rather than go through with the wedding, the sisters commandeer a yacht and head for Italy, where—still in their bridal gowns—they ask asylum of wealthy Piero. Soon enough, the 50 cousins show up at Piero's estate as well. What follows is a comic, tragic, utterly terrific battle that makes The Taming of the Shrew look like the kid's stuff it essentially is. Matt Hawkins's staging is also terrific. The precisely choreographed cast of 30 (yes, 30) play for keeps—especially those in featured roles, such as the fierce Michaela Petro, the convincingly dangerous Shane Kenyon, the girly-girlish Sarah Goeden, and Stacy Stoltz and John Ferrick as gender warriors who find themselves caught behind enemy lines. Paul Fagen and Cheryl Roy float through in delightful character roles, and Mike Mroch's apparently simple set discloses its value as the show goes along. All in all, this Big Love is a marvel of big ensemble work in a tiny space. —Tony Adler $28
The complete collection of McClusky's collages, which he made from household objects and that depict his life as a traveling circus clown. Reception Fri 1/11, 5-8 PM.
A reverend struggles with his faith during a night in a tropical Mexican hotel. $32 suggested donation
Kenneth H. Brown's meticulous depiction of a day in a Marine prison camp caused a sensation when it premiered at New York's Living Theater in 1963. The guards' unrelenting, systematic dehumanization of their fellow Marine prisoners is appalling, especially since the abuse seems intended to instill loyalty to the Corps. And Brown's near-total eschewal of plot—the maltreatment goes on until it simply stops—removes any comforting fictive filter between audience and action. Wisely, director Jennifer Markowitz does nothing to make her Mary-Arrchie production enjoyable. Her actors endure an hour of exhausting physical drills while we watch from various uncomfortable locations. As movement theater, it's grotesquely beautiful; as a glimpse into the darkest recesses of male psychology, it's sickening. —Justin Hayford $25
The tale Chris Bower tells in this one-hander, about an unhinged father determined to make his son into a high school football star, could stand on its own as a fascinating short story. But brought to the stage by director Kevlyn Hayes and actor Matt Test, the piece is powerful, darkly funny—and ultimately sad. Test plays a computer repair guy who's allowed his inner demons to rule, and ruin, his life. Estranged from his son and forbidden by court order to be near his wife—who goes to all the football games—he's drawn inexorably to repeated self-destructive encounters with them, and with the authorities. Hayes's clever, graceful staging finds myriad onstage metaphors for the protagonist's disintegrating mental state. —Jack Helbig $15
Pianist Gerald Clayton has recorded every one of his three albums since moving from his native Los Angeles to New York seven years ago, and in that brief time his music has undergone a dramatic transformation from brisk and lively post-Oscar Peterson postbop to burnished, thoroughly contemporary jazz that borrows rhythmic ideas from hip-hop and dices them up with staggering technique. He pushes even further on his latest album, Life Forum (Concord Jazz), beefing up his core trio of bassist Joe Sanders and drummer Justin Brown with three horn players (trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire and saxophonists Logan Richardson and Dayna Stephenson) and two vocalists, Gretchen Parlato and Sachal Vasandani, who add refined wordless singing. Clayton’s dense, translucent arrangements frequently function as set pieces for his improvisations, even when the horns and voices stick to composed material, and he incorporates a pop-soul influence similar to what you’ll hear on records by Parlato and Robert Glasper. Clayton composed all the music, and he often revels in its lush, complex harmonies while the horns and singers move in elegant counterpoint against the core trio’s fleet movements—on the hard-driving “Some Always,” for instance, he and Akinmusire play an extended passage in precise unison over a churning, frenetic groove. When it’s just the core trio, as on the skittering “Sir Third,” the borderline telepathic rapport Clayton has developed with the band comes to the fore, especially when he and Brown navigate rapid-fire tangles of rhythmic displacements or trade phrases so quickly your ears barely have time to process the exchanges. I’d love to hear the full ensemble play this music, but the trio is so sharp that these new pieces will survive the transition just fine. —Peter Margasak $20-$45
Last spring, five Second City faculty members inaugurated a troupe devoted to Stephen Sondheim. The mission? To dream up Sondheimesque musicals on the spot. One year later, the gambit has paid off. Their tribute trades a stable plot for riffs on characters and themes; their lyrics testify to their knack for internal rhyming. "Birthday" was the audience suggestion on the night I attended. The opening fanfare rapidly devolved into a cacophony of voices. After the prologue wrapped, the players introduced the show's central cog, Geraldine, a fresh-eyed high school dropout from Ohio who's trying her luck on Broadway. In Sondheim style, there's an absurd conceit: she intends to make it on the street, not onstage, handing out flyers—a job with more potential for rejection than a Broadway career. —Jena Cutie $15
A retrospective of work Mitchell made in collaboration with noted poets, including Frank O’Hara, Bill Berkson, and Charles Hine.
The first annual GrimmFest features eight original pieces inspired by classic stories from the Brothers Grimm. $10-15
Arthur Conan Doyle introduced Sherlock Holmes in the 1887 novella on which this new adaptation is based, and that makes it a fascinating historical document. We get to see Holmes at a point when most of his well-known characteristics are present but haven't yet solidified into paradigm or cliche. He's a brilliant if desultory college student, pursuing what we might now call a self-designed major and displaying what we might now identify as autistic-spectrum behavior. His deductive method is still such a novelty that it gets its own chapter. And the story itself is peculiar, featuring a long flashback to the American west and—believe it or not—the depredations of some evil Mormons. Trouble is, Doyle's structure is just as peculiar as his story. The flashback appears as a kind of extended coda, after the case has already been solved and all the tension dissipated. Adapter/director Paul Edwards doesn't do anything to fix that, so the final third of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's 90-minute production is plain tedious, Mormons notwithstanding. —Tony Adler $22