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Becca Stevens

Tue., April 28, 7:30 p.m.

Singer, songwriter, and stringed-instrument specialist Becca Stevens represents a growing group of musicians allergic to genre limitations but also repelled by glib eclecticism. On her recent third album, Perfect Animal (Universal Music Classics), she blends a clever range of styles into a fine hybrid without ever sounding like she’s showing off. With a repertoire that happens to include songs by Frank Ocean (“Thinkin Bout You”) and Usher (“You Make Me Wanna”)—and a previous album that features tunes by the Smiths and Animal Collective—Stevens comes across as a jazz singer playing folk rock. Bassist Chris Tordini and keyboardist Liam Robinson provide vocal harmonies as the threesome slalom through intricate arrangements that convey a bit of the Punch Brothers’ progressive spirit. Stevens has meticulous control of her voice, shading every phrase with precision and masterful control of timbre, and though I sometimes find the music a bit fussy in its complexity, she’s clearly found a way to put her own distinctive spin on the folk-jazz ideas of Joni Mitchell without sounding anything like her. —Peter Margasak $12-$22

SPACE (map)
1245 Chicago Ave.
Evanston
phone 847-492-8860
Becca Stevens

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Terence Blanchard's E-Collective

Wed., May 6, 7 & 9:30 p.m.

Trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard has reveled in his versatility over the last couple of decades, emerging as an effective film composer thanks to a partnership with Spike Lee and putting a modern, smoldering spin on the late quintet music of Miles Davis on his terrific 2013 album Magnetic. But he stumbles badly on the heavy-handed funk- and R&B-flavored Breathless (due in late May from Blue Note), which seems to draw inspiration from the music of Robert Glasper without comprehending the keyboardist’s lean, hip-hop inspired vision. The album opens with a lugubrious take on the Les McCann classic “Compared to What?”—with ill matched hyperactive vocals by Maroon 5’s P.J. Morton—and follows with lots of schmaltzy postfusion synthesizers and overly processed guitar solos jacked up by the hard beats of drummer Oscar Seaton. The music is very well played, but I don’t think sounding like a watered-down version of a late-80s Miles Davis record is a good thing for Blanchard, because he can definitely reach higher (the spoken word of Cornel West on “Talk to Me” notwithstanding). —Peter Margasak $18-$38

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SPACE (map)
1245 Chicago Ave.
Evanston
phone 847-492-8860
Terence Blanchard's E-Collective

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The Venetian Twins

Through 5/9: Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM

Commedia dell'arte—a theatrical form that flourished in Renaissance Italy, with roots in ancient Roman comedy—is a forerunner of our modern burlesque and farce, so it's no surprise that this charming commedia-style production by Piccolo Theatre sometimes recalls the zany antics of the Marx Brothers, the Three Stooges, Abbott and Costello, and even the classic Looney Tunes cartoons. The plot concerns twin brothers (both played by the engaging Kurt Proepper)—one clever, the other foolish. Raised separately, they have never met, yet by coincidence they have both arrived in the same town at the same time to seek a bride. The result is a whirlwind of mistaken identities and double-crosses. Adapted by the ensemble from Carlo Goldoni's 1747 play, the show revels in classic commedia conventions: stock characters (fatuous lovers, sassy servants, pompous patriarchs), an exaggerated presentational performance style, grotesque and sometimes vulgar masks, slapstick physical humor, deft yet daffy swordplay, and audience participation. Joshua D. Allard's costumes meld Renaissance and contemporary design elements, and the 11-member cast provide musical accompaniment and zany and rude sound effects from the sidelines when they're not onstage. —Albert Williams $27

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Piccolo Theatre (map)
Evanston Arts Depot, 600 Main St.
Evanston
phone 847-424-0089
The Venetian Twins

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