The List: January 28-February 3, 2010 

Critic's Choices and other notable concerts: Algernon, Tape, Rosanne Cash, Gates of Slumber, La Roux, and more

Elly Jackson of La Roux

Elly Jackson of La Roux

Deirdre O’Callaghan

Thursday28

Algernon
Tape, Mountains

Friday29

Arch Enemy
Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quartet
Rosanne Cash
Jet W. Lee
Nate McBride & Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten

Saturday30

Gates of Slumber
Magda Mayas
Alec Ounsworth

Sunday31

Michaël Attias, Magda Mayas, Fred Lonberg-Holm, Frank Rosaly, and Dana Jessen

Monday1

Michaël Attias
La Roux

Tuesday2

Neil Jendon

Wednesday27

Magda Mayas

thursday28

ALGERNON Over the past few years Dave Miller has emerged as one of the most flexible and ubiquitous guitarists in Chicago, not only with his own instrumental five-piece Algernon but also in adventurous jazz bands like Zing!, Blink., and Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls. He's comfortable with postbop, free jazz, and swing—he recently played Charlie Christian to James Falzone's Benny Goodman as a guest in Klang—as well as with the species of hard-to-define through-composed music unfortunately known as "post-rock." I don't think it's a coincidence that Miller has a lot in common with another of the city's most durable and original players, Jeff Parker, or that Algernon's brand-new third album, Ghost Surveillance (Cuneiform), explores some of the same turf as Parker's best-known group, Tortoise: I can hear similarities in the graceful interactions between Katie Wiegman's driving vibraphone and the band's lean, muscular guitars (the second played by new member Toby Summerfield), as well as in the occasional passages of post-Reich minimalism and soundtrack ambience. But while Tortoise often get called prog, Algernon actually earn the label—bassist Tom Perona and drummer Cory Healey play harder and busier than Tortoise's rhythm section, and Miller's compositions pack in more detail, emphasizing weird time signatures and athletic virtuosity. Thankfully this flashiness isn't just empty showing off; nobody solos, and the rigorous arrangements favor measured calm over breathless agitation. I doubt anybody will stop comparing Algernon to Tortoise anytime soon, but Ghost Surveillance is the sound of a young band finding its own impressive voice. Patience Gloria and the Super Desserts open. 9 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8. —Peter Margasak

click to enlarge Algernon
  • Algernon

TAPE, MOUNTAINS Few groups transgress against stylistic orthodoxy as flagrantly as instrumental Swedish trio TAPE, and fewer still do so by making music that's so elegant, mysterious, and quiet. For the past decade they've been carefully skirting the borders of jazz, pop, electronic music, and folk, never committing to any one territory. Tomas Hallonsten and brothers Andreas and Johan Berthling—the latter a top-flight free-jazz bassist who plays with the likes of Mats Gustafsson and Sten Sandell—switch between guitars, keys, drums, synths, and horns, creating languid, spacious soundscapes that can be serene, spooky, or seductive. Every piece seems to float into the next, but despite the frequent shifts in mood and color, the music never comes across as glib or erratic. All of Tape's albums—even collaborative efforts with Japanese groups like Minamo and Tenniscoats—have a comfortable intimacy that makes them feel like private, low-key hootenannies. In 2008 the band released the gorgeous Luminarium (Hapna), and just this week Chicago's Immune imprint issued Fugue, a collaboration between Tape and Scottish jazz and pop multi-instrumentalist Bill Wells; it's a bit more homogenous than the trio's other releases, but it shares the flawlessly executed minimalist aesthetic that distinguishes them.

New York duo MOUNTAINS make shape-shifting instrumental music that's similarly restrained and inscrutable. On their 2008 album Choral Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp—who started the group a decade ago, when they were students at the Art Institute of Chicago—arrange gently fluctuating layers of keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, field recordings, and abstract digital sounds into hypnotic, droning pieces that feel almost three-dimensional. Their vocabulary includes fingerstyle picking, low-frequency noise, tremulous long tones on harmonium and organ, and the sound of gurgling water, and it's sufficiently rich that even though their onstage performances invariably surrender some detail, they're still fluid and mesmerizing—as the recent live album Etching (Thrill Jockey) proves.

Tape headline; Mountains and the duo of David Daniell and Douglas McCombs open.  9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $8, limited $3 tickets. —Peter Margasak

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ARCH ENEMY This Swedish melodic death-metal band, founded by guitarist Michael Amott after he left Carcass, has reinvented itself more than once since its inception in 1996—most notably in 2000, when original singer Johan Liiva was replaced by Angela Gossow. Though Gossow's monstrous voice has a larger range than Liiva's, it's hardly obvious from Arch Enemy's recordings alone that the band swapped its front man for a front woman—more evidence that the guttural death-metal growl might be the only truly gender-neutral vocal style in the world. Gossow is a big draw, not just because she's a strong singer but because she's a hot chick in a genre dominated by dudes; since she came aboard the band's fame has increased exponentially, and certain fans who've been around from the start are still grumbling about it. So what better way to piss them off than by putting out an album of rerecorded classics from the old days? This fall's The Root of All Evil (Century Media) revisits the raw and searing songs from Arch Enemy's first three albums, Black Earth, Stigmata, and Burning Bridges, giving them the sound of the current lineup and the sound quality of the late aughts. It's not a revelation, but it's a great excuse to pack the live set with old stuff. Exodus, Arsis, and Mutiny Within open.  6:30 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn, 312-923-2000 or 312-559-1212, $23, $20 in advance. —Monica Kendrick

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC WIND QUINTET The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet formed in 1988 at the end of Karajan's reign with that orchestra, and it remained intact until bassoonist Henning Trog's retirement last year. New bassoonist Marion Reinhard, a Berlin Philharmonic member since '99, joins Michael Hasel (flute), Andreas Wittmann (oboe), Walter Seyfarth (clarinet), and Fergus McWilliam (French horn). The quintet's playing has always been robust and incredibly precise, if less sensuous than some. On their most recent CD, Danses et Divertissements (BIS), they play as impressively as ever, though they deliver the French music with a bit of a German accent. All five works on this program come from the 20th century. First is Ferenc Farkas's Old Hungarian Dances of the 17th Century, which reflects the "new old music" approach of the composer's mentor, Respighi. Next is Gyorgy Orban's whimsical Wind Quintet, followed by Gyorgy Ligeti's fleeting yet evocative Six Bagatelles. The second half of the program begins with Elliott Carter's intricate but not thorny 1948 Wind Quintet, where the composer says he decided to "emphasize the individuality of each instrument" and "make a virtue of their inability to blend completely." Last is Carl Nielsen's popular Wind Quintet, op. 43, an unusual and moving work that really takes flight in the ingenious third-movement variations, which were played at the composer's funeral.  7:30 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 1131 E. 57th, 773-702-8068, $32, $5 students. —Steve Langendorf

click to enlarge Rosanne Cash
  • Rosanne Cash

ROSANNE CASH Rosanne Cash will probably never get out of her father's long shadow, but she established her artistic independence 20 years ago. Her first husband, Rodney Crowell, laid a heavy hand on her early records as her producer in the 80s, but with the 1990 breakup album Interiors, where Cash herself was running the show, she found a voice of her own. On her latest release, The List (Manhattan), she uses it to engage with the country tradition of which her father had been a part—her first attempt to do so on disc. Its 12 tracks are all from a list of 100 essential country songs he drew up for her in the early 70s, when she was 18 and working as a wardrobe assistant on one of his tours; they got to talking about music on the bus, and he realized that her knowledge of traditional folk and country was lacking. She learned those 100 songs, but until now they've never been a meaningful part of her repertoire. Cash has clearly ruminated over them for years, though, and the extra significance they gain from their connection to her father make The List far more than just a stroll through country's golden years. The lean arrangements by Cash's second husband, producer John Leventhal, aren't nostalgic—"Motherless Children," for example, sounds more like the Eric Clapton take than the Carter Family version—but the emotional resonance that Cash locates in the songs makes strict stylistic fidelity unnecessary. (That said, she doesn't change things for the sake of changing them, and both Hank Williams's "Take These Chains From My Heart" and Patsy Cline's "She's Got You" retain some of their original honky-tonk feel.) Cash will be joined only by Leventhal on guitar for this concert; she'll do lots of storytelling between songs, and there will be visuals to accompany the music. 8 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777 or 773-728-6000, $42-$45. —Peter Margasak

JET W. LEE With their jangly guitars, bombastic drums, earnest vocals, and citified touches of country, local comfort-rock trio Jet W. Lee sound like they've spent a lot of time listening to mid-80s Husker Du and R.E.M. The passage of decades has rendered those bands' once-­revolutionary music familiar and harmless, but the members of Jet W. Lee seem like they're still able to feel the glamorous glow of in-the-know cult adoration that accompanied such groups in their indie-label days. And even if they aren't—it looks like they might be too young—they've managed to give their self-released debut album, Who Shall Remain Shameless, a peculiar angsty charge that helps me feel it again. On "Starry State of Mind" front man Jesse Johnson sings, "When all your life's a stage / And you get confused by the parts that you are playing / The corporation's gone and made the change / And you don't fit in," stirring up existential questions that he pretends to answer with a simple "Don't worry." Uh, sorry, I'm still gonna worry, and you guys know it damn well. This is a release party; the Safes and She Bear open. 9 PM, Quenchers Saloon, 2401 N. Western, 773-276-9730, $5 suggested donation. —Ann Sterzinger

NATE MCBRIDE & INGEBRIGT HAAKER FLATEN Jaco Pastorius all but single-handedly turned the use of the electric bass in jazz into an ugly cliche with his tasteless displays of musical egotism, but in recent years a new generation of improvising bassists has re­habilitated plugged-in low-end excess. Among them are Nate McBride and Ingebrigt Haaker Flaten, who played together in the original lineup of Ken Vandermark's Powerhouse Sound—they laid down jittery, multi­dimensional grooves and occasionally tested the sturdiness of the beat by stepping back and whacking at it with blasts of bone-shaking sound. McBride and Haaker Flaten have performed as an acoustic duo before, but this is their debut as an electric two-piece. They'll play first, followed by Loto Ball Show and then local drone-doom outfit Rabid Rabbit, whose lineup also features two electric bassists—and, for this show, guest saxophonist Dave Rempis, who frequently works with McBride and Haaker Flaten in more jazz-oriented settings.  10 PM, Cal's, 400 S. Wells, 312-922-6392, $5 suggested donation. —Bill Meyer

click to enlarge Gates of Slumber

saturday30

GATES OF SLUMBER I might not be able to talk too much about what makes this Indiana doom-metal band so appealing to me without going into embarrassing detail about the pubescent sexual awakening I underwent upon discovering my dad's old Conan the Barbarian paperbacks in our musty basement. Bear with me, though. I'll try. The newest Gates of Slumber album, this fall's Hymns of Blood and Thunder (Metal Blade), wallows joyously in the swords-and-sorcery romanticism endemic to vintage stoner rock—the Frazetta-flavored kind, populated by fearless muscle-bound warriors, hooded necromancers, and barely dressed slave princesses instead of elves and hobbits and shit. The occasional synth flourishes and female guest vocals make it easy to imagine that these guys are actually serious about building a fantasy world, even as they delight in its cheesiness—and as far as I'm concerned, they can indulge themselves all they like as long as they keep dropping the anvil in slo-mo the way they do, offering up hooky riffs redolent of the golden of age of British heavy metal. Speaking of which—listening to this record makes me want to watch Heavy Metal again, if only to see if there are any parts I don't have memorized yet. Pentagram headline; Gates of Slumber and Soul Power Trio open. 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $20. —Monica Kendrick

MAGDA MAYAS See Sunday. Mayas plays in a quintet with keyboardist Jim Baker, percussionists Steven Hess and Michael Zerang, and cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. A six-piece group with Lonberg-Holm, bassoonist Dana Jessen, trombonist Jeb Bishop, bass clarinetist Jeff Kimmel, bassist Jason Roebke, and percussionist Marc Riordan opens.  10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested.

ALEC OUNSWORTH Back in 2005 Clap Your Hands Say Yeah became one of the first bands to break almost entirely via the indie-rock blogosphere rather than traditional media. This represented not only the passing of the tastemaking torch but also the beginnings of a new career template for buzz bands: start by rocketing to fame (of a sort) on a surge of Internet hype, then get swamped by it just as quickly when the tide turns. CYHSY didn't flame out as badly as the similarly hyped Black Kids, but last year they went on hiatus and at least temporarily abandoned plans to make a third album. In the meantime front man Alec Ounsworth has cut a solo record, Mo Beauty (Anti-), that's pretty similar to CHYSY's output—in other words, it's unspectacular indie rock that makes you wonder what it was that people got so worked up about. He's also self-released Skin and Bones with a group called Flashy Python, which in its studio incarnation features members of Dr. Dog, the Walkmen, and Man Man; Ounsworth's band on this tour consists of three-fourths of Philly indie-rock outfit the Teeth plus Brooklyn guitarist Matt Sutton, and they'll play material from both albums. Cold War Kids headline. 7:30 PM, the Vic, 3145 N. Sheffield, 773-472-0449, sold out. —Miles Raymer

sunday31

MICHAËL ATTIAS, MAGDA MAYAS, FRED LONBERG-HOLM, FRANK ROSALY, AND DANA JESSEN There's no predicting what this ad hoc transatlantic assemblage of improvisers will sound like, but the diversity and eccentricity of the musical personalities on hand ought to produce something interesting no matter what. Fluent, stylish saxophonist MICHAËL ATTIAS—whose long history with local cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm includes playing together in New York combos like Peep and Anthony Coleman's Self-Haters in the early 90s—is the most jazz-oriented participant. On the excellent new Renku in Coimbra (Clean Feed), a trio outing with bassist John Hebert and drummer Satoshi Takeishi, he's impressively limber and resourceful, creating a graceful continuity even when he pares a solo down to a series of elliptical phrases. A sharp version of Lee Konitz's "Thingin'" evokes west-coast cool, while the original tune "Do and the Birds" both lurches and glides, its interactions more turbulent but no less intuitive. At the other end of the spectrum—that is, with the least connection to jazz—is Berlin pianist MAGDA MAYAS, a brilliant experimenter enamored of playing the instrument's innards. On Gold (Creative Sources), a recent duo album with drummer Tony Buck (who just played here with the Necks), she only occasionally touches the ivories, preferring to scrape, rake, and thwack the strings with her fingers, a variety of mallets, and other objects I can't guess at. Her dissonant tone clusters, damped notes, and percussive splatter—it sometimes sounds like she's banging on the piano's frame—mesh beautifully with Buck's swirling ruckus and bowed drones. Rounding out the group are drummer Frank Rosaly, who excels in all sorts of contexts, and Amsterdam-based bassoonist Dana Jessen, a classical player who's nurturing a growing devotion to improvised music. See also Saturday and Wednesday, when Mayas performs in other configurations, as well as Monday, when Attias does. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested. —Peter Margasak

monday1

MICHAËL ATTIAS See Sunday. Attias plays at Myopic in a duo with cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, then at Skylark in a quartet with Lonberg-Holm, bassist Jason Roebke, and drummer Frank Rosaly. 7:30 PM, Myopic Books, 1564 N. Milwaukee, 773-862-4882. Also 10 PM, Skylark, 2149 S. Halsted, 312-948-5275, donation requested.

LA ROUX England has always had it better than the States when it comes to electropop, and the gap is widening—the post-Lilly Allen boom of young women crafting enigmatic albums that are 80 percent dance-floor killers is apparently still in its nascence. As the androgynous antidiva and namesake of the duo La Roux—her elaborate ginger coiffure gives her a look that's somewhere between a Teddy Boy and the little burger-toting guy from the Bob's Big Boy sign—Elly Jackson has already topped the charts in the UK, and she's finally getting some traction here. La Roux's self-titled debut, licensed in the U.S. by Interscope, has earned the band comparisons to Yazoo and Bronski Beat, and they're warranted—the album strikes a similar balance between synthetic and soulful. Jackson is mouthy and looks cool, and her airy but muscular voice heaves from bratty to doleful as she unloads her burden of unrequited lust and dysfunctional do-me/I-hate-you relationship woe. Producer and cowriter Ben Langmaid, the other half of La Roux in the studio, doesn't join Jackson onstage, but she does bring backing musicians instead of just canned tracks. Yes Giantess and Moneypenny open. 8 PM, Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln, 773-525-2501, 18+, sold out. —Jessica Hopper

tuesday2

NEIL JENDON Local guitarist Neil Jendon cofounded Catherine in the late 80s and more recently put in time with ambient psych outfit Zelienople, but over the past few years he's also emerged as a noisenik, playing solo as well as in partnerships both formal and fleeting. At first he favored heavily processed guitar pieces that sounded like tinky satellite noise or maybe an empty crisper bin outfitted with contact mikes, but more recently he's turned to laptops and crystalline, oceanic static. He issues his own music in editions of 50 on a CD-R label he calls Gutflora. The Fortieth Day + Noise Crush headline; Jendon, Fluid, Kremlin, and Bachir Gemayel open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $5, $3 in advance. —Jessica Hopper

wednesday3

MAGDA MAYAS See Sunday. Mayas plays in Projekt Transmit, a group led by Necks drummer Tony Buck that's a four-piece for the occasion, with bassist Nate McBride and percussionist Steven Hess. Frank Rosaly spins. 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $8.

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