The List, September 10-16, 2009 

Critics' Choices and other notable concerts: the Cave Singers, DJ Sega, A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Moonshine Willy, Felix da Housecat, and more

Felix da Housecat

Felix da Housecat

Zach Cordner

Thursday10

Cylinder
Jason Marsalis Quartet
Andy Moor & DJ/Rupture, Hanne Hukkelberg

friday11

Jason Marsalis Quartet

saturday12

Cave Singers
Cylinder
DJ Sega
A Hawk and a Hacksaw
Jason Marsalis Quartet
Moonshine Willy
Subarachnoid Space

sunday13

Cylinder
Jason Marsalis Quartet
Phantom Orchard, Subarachnoid Space, Woods

monday14

Felix da Housecat
Kevin O'Donnell's September Spectacular

tuesday15

Paul Burch

thursday10

click to enlarge Cylinder
  • Cylinder

CYLINDER Saxophonist and clarinetist Aram Shelton left Chicago for Oakland, California, four years ago, but he comes back so often to play with locally based groups like Rolldown, Arrive, and Fast Citizens that it sometimes feels like he never left. He rarely brings his Bay Area bandmates to town with him, though, and if even half the groups he plays with in California are as good as Cylinder, he's been holding out on us. This quartet, which also includes bassist Lisa Mezzacappa, trumpeter Darren Johnston, and drummer Kjell Nordeson, hasn't been together long, but on a recording of a recent gig at Oakland's 21 Grand they improvise like they're inside one another's heads and play sensitively written tunes pitched at one another's strengths. The catchy Ornette-ish unison theme that opens Johnston's "The Ear That Was Sold to a Fish" sets up a series of thrillingly elaborate contrapuntal statements among all four players, and on Shelton's "Four Thoughts" bowed bass, sighing reeds, gargling brass, and groaning cymbals seem to melt together into a single constantly morphing sound. Tonight the four members of Cylinder will improvise in mixed groups with three locals: drummer Frank Rosaly, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and reedist Keefe Jackson. See also Saturday and Sunday. 10 PM, Elastic, 2830 N. Milwaukee, second floor, 773-772-3616, donation requested. —Bill Meyer

click to enlarge Jason Marsalis
  • Jason Marsalis

JASON MARSALIS QUARTET On Music Update (ELM), his first album in eight years, Jason Marsalis takes an all-or-nothing approach to the drums. Five of the 13 tracks consist of nothing but stacked overdubs of Marsalis on the kit, layered into concise workouts that reference everything from disco to Japanese taiko drumming. On the other tunes he doesn't touch the drums at all—instead he switches to vibraphone, an instrument he picked up early in the aughts, and leads the trio of pianist Austin Johnson, bassist Will Goble, and drummer David Potter, a group he met while in residence at Florida State University. His approach on vibes mirrors his lucid, dynamic drumming style: his phrases are lean and crisp and arrive in waves that often play against the rhythms of his bandmates. The prancing melody of the original "Ballet Class" is a tad schmaltzy for my tastes—Johnson's bluesy solo can't quite save it—but by and large Marsalis acquits himself well. Whatever the instrument, he's got a fluid, unerring sense of swing, and on vibes he displays quite a fondness for quoting bebop standards—it sounds like he's been waiting years for a crack at all the melodies he couldn't play on drums. See also Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20. —Peter Margasak

ANDY MOOR & DJ/RUPTURE, HANNE HUKKELBERG New York's DJ/RUPTURE owes a big part of his reputation to his skill at fitting the most unlikely music into seamless, steadily bumping mixes. His new album with Matt Shadetek, Solar Life Raft (due in November on the Agriculture label), is a sprawling session that threads a single rhythmic line through synth pop, dancehall, dubstep, and more, even making room for lengthy chunks of recordings by contemporary classical maverick Nico Muhly, musique concrete master Luc Ferrari, and Finish psych-folk oddballs Paavoharju. Rupture can also improvise, focusing less on dance-floor flow and more on responding to a partner—alongside DJ Olive, he's one of the few DJs I've heard who can interact with a live musician without falling back on simply spinning beats. On Patches (Unsuitable), his superb collaborative disc with ANDY MOOR of the Ex—one of rock's most versatile and rhythmically inventive guitarists—Rupture layers and processes bleepy, blobby tones, liquid melodic shards, speech fragments, and hammering beats, creating a series of peripatetic dialogues with Moor's stuttering, alternately clattery and resonant riffs and patterns. Even when their output is at its most tangled and hard to digest, they always seem to be playing off and complementing each other, and the listener always has lots to latch onto.

click to enlarge Hanne Hukkelberg - FOREST
  • Hanne Hukkelberg
  • Forest

On the recent Blood From a Stone (Nettwerk), quirky Norwegian singer HANNE HUKKELBERG ditches the carnivalesque cabaret of her earlier recordings and replaces her quiet coo with much more forceful pop vocals, which sometimes even get a bit strident. The music is more aggressive and guitar heavy, full of toothy licks and coloristic noise, but Hukkelberg's melodies are still eccentric and ingratiating, meandering according to a logic of their own. And where her old albums used a veritable flea market's worth of instruments, here she pares down somewhat—but still makes room for a musical saw, clogs, a bicycle wheel, and beats played on what the liner notes call "oven and freezer percussion" and "table percussion." Her terrific band, both on Blood From a Stone and on this tour, includes Huntsville guitarist Ivar Grydeland.

This show is part of Adventures in Modern Music. Moor and DJ/Rupture headline; Hukkelberg, the Lucky Dragons, and Sharon Van Etten open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15 ($50 five-day pass). —Peter Margasak

friday11

JASON MARSALIS QUARTET See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

saturday12

click to enlarge Cave Singers
  • Cave Singers

CAVE SINGERS Cave Singers front man Peter Quirk used to sing for a Seattle goth-disco band called Hint Hint, where he had to strain to fit his craggily warbly animal voice into the dark, glossy music. But on Welcome Joy (Matador), the Cave Singers' sophomore album, Quirk sounds at home, his holler at peace with its setting. Fittingly, the record is a happy one, earnest and pleasant, and its simple rustic-sounding songs are about simple things: dreams, love, being in nature, mushrooms (the kind for cooking, not for tripping). The band grew out of Quirk's basement acoustic-guitar jams with housemate Derek Fudesco, at the time the bassist in Pretty Girls Make Graves, and became a trio when they invited drummer and guitarist Marty Lund along. The simple guitar patterns and relentless but understated beats (often just tambourine and kick drum) give Welcome Joy a rarefied air, as though there's something untainted at the heart of the music—the Cave Singers are like Lungfish reborn as a front-porch band, ignorant of sin and vice and unscathed by the evils of the world. Lightning Dust and Bailiff open. 10 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport, 773-525-2508, $12, 18+. —Jessica Hopper

CYLINDER See Thursday. For the second show of Cylinder's three-night stand, the group will become a septet with the addition of three Chicago musicians—trombonist Jeb Bishop, saxophonist Dave Rempis, and drummer Frank Rosaly—and play compositions written specifically for this extended lineup. The piano duo of Paul Giallorenzo and Hans-Peter Pfammatter opens. 10 PM, Heaven Gallery, 1550 N. Milwaukee, second floor, heavengallery.com, donation requested.

DJ SEGA One of the best things about so-called club music (aka Baltimore club, aka B-more house) is the fact that, despite its rigid stylistic template, it's amenable to hybridization with a practically infinite range of genres. Though the requirements for something to be considered club music are unusually specific, those are really the only rules it has. Include the right elements—the break from Lyn Collins's "Think (About It)" and a bunch of rapid-fire bass-drum stutters—and you can make a club track out of anything from Inner Circle's "Bad Boys" to the theme from Pinky and the Brain. Diplo-approved Philly club-music stylist DJ Sega understands this as well as or better than anyone. His set from this May at New York's Bowery Ballroom bounces all over the map, touching down in the span of an hour on "Smells Like Teen Spirit," Michael Jackson, "Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check," and Chromeo—but thanks to his skill and instincts, these jarring transitions create a cognitive frisson instead of ugly aesthetic whiplash. And his take on "IC19" for a recent Buraka Som Sistema remix EP proves that kuduro can make the transition to club music just like everything else. The Ghetto Division DJs (Charlie Glitch, Rampage, Rob Threezy, Maddjazz, Moon Man, D-51, M-Dok, and Louie Cue), Broken Disco 1980 (Akira, Le Fonz, and Mr. Bobby), and Chicago Dead Beats open. 11:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, $6, free before 12:30 AM, 18+. —Miles Raymer

click to enlarge A Hawk and a Hacksaw - TAMIR KALIFA
  • A Hawk and a Hacksaw
  • Tamir Kalifa

A HAWK AND A HACKSAW Though plenty of American groups—Vampire Weekend, Fool's Gold, et al—have tried to flavor their sound with whatever stripe of "world music" catches their fancy, their hybrids are usually so flimsy and shallow they'd be comical if they weren't such an insult to a listener's intelligence. But when the core duo of A Hawk and a Hacksaw, Jeremy Barnes and Heather Trost, felt the pull of eastern European folk traditions, they went straight to the source. They spent a little more than a year living in Budapest, Hungary, in 2007 and 2008, working with and learning from some of the region's best traditional musicians—including cimbalom master Kalman Balogh and trumpeter and violinist Ferenc Kovacs, both of whom join the group for its excellent new album, Delivrance (Leaf). The music pulses and ripples with the breakneck rhythms and wild melodies of Hungarian, Romanian, and Turkish folk songs, but most of the tunes are originals, with a poppy feel that marks them out as the work of indie rockers—and when Barnes sings in English his nasal tone makes him sound a little like Andrew Bird. A Hawk and a Hacksaw are now back in New Mexico, with an American lineup—when they hit Chicago last year they were traveling with Kovacs—and I'm curious to hear how they've transformed these new songs. This show is part of Adventures in Modern Music. Ovo, Ty Segall, and Mountains open. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $15 ($50 five-day pass). —Peter Margasak

JASON MARSALIS QUARTET See Thursday. 8 and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

MOONSHINE WILLY The alternative-country movement (or, as Moonshine Willy preferred to call it, "alt-cunt") has had plenty of unsung heroes, and this Chicago-based bluegrass-rockabilly band was one of them. They were the first group signed to a nascent Bloodshot Records back in 1994 and did the label proud through the late 90s with three full-length albums, two seven-inches, and a heap of compilation appearances. I remember them as lively, raucous, weirdly slick (though maybe "greasy" would be the better word), and absolutely joyous. Though it's hard for me to imagine the band without guitarist Nancy Rideout (nee Tannenbaum), who died in a motorcycle accident in New York in 2007, the surviving members have pulled together a promising six-person lineup for this one-off reunion, part of the Bloodshot Records 15th Anniversary Beer-B-Q—which also includes belt-sander racing, a drunken spelling bee, and sets by the Waco Brothers, Alejandro Escovedo, Scott H. Biram, and the Blacks, among others. 3:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, 773-227-4433 or 866-468-3401, $10 suggested donation (kids under ten free when accompanied by an adult). —Monica Kendrick

click to enlarge Subarachnoid Space
  • Subarachnoid Space

SUBARACHNOID SPACE This densely psychedelic Portland outfit, which hasn't released an album since 2005's The Red Veil, is practically a brand-new band on the forthcoming Eight Bells (Crucial Blast). The heart and soul and burning core of the Subarachnoid Space is still guitarist and vocalist Melynda Jackson—she of the wicked ways with effects pedals—but she's now part of a new lineup that includes two other guitarists (if you count the album-only contributions of producer Steven Wray Lobdell, aka the Davis Redford Triad), and her sense of what's possible seems likewise renewed. Parts of Eight Bells are nearly as heavy as the weightiest doom ("Bird Signs," "Lilith"), while others begin with an almost light touch that's both cradling and ominous, suggesting as it does the slow boiling build to come—"Akathesia" stretches to a generous length, full of predatory patience. I remember the band being absolutely transfixing live in 2005, and I'm looking forward to seeing what this incarnation can do. Agalloch headlines; the Subarachnoid Space, Indian, and Velnias open. See also Sunday. 8 PM, Reggie's Rock Club, 2105 S. State, 312-949-0121 or 866-468-3401, $15, $12 in advance, 17+. —Monica Kendrick

sunday13

CYLINDER See Thursday. On their last night in town, Cylinder play two sets with their customary quartet lineup. 10 PM, Hungry Brain, 2319 W. Belmont, 773-935-2118, donation requested.

JASON MARSALIS QUARTET See Thursday. 4, 8, and 10 PM, Jazz Showcase, 806 S. Plymouth, 312-360-0234, $20.

PHANTOM ORCHARD, SUBARACHNOID SPACE, WOODS Harpist Zeena Parkins and electronicist Ikue Mori are two of New York's most adventurous musicians. Vanguardists throughout their decades-long careers, both women have been involved in countless projects—mutant rock, beautifully turbulent free improvisation, contemporary classical compositions for string quartet—whose only common denominator is an emphasis on noise and discord. But on their second album as PHANTOM ORCHARD, Orra (Tzadik, 2008), the duo hit upon a surprisingly serene, dreamy sound that's just as boldly experimental as anything else they've done. Playing both acoustic and electric instruments, Parkins unfurls gorgeous sweeps, pattering cascades of discrete notes, sweet-toned tangles, and warm clusters of strummed chords that melt together into rich glissandos; Mori's distinctive computer manipulations sound almost liquid, whooshing and spilling beneath the strings, as though her usual fractured forms were the ice on a thawing spring stream. The pieces move in an appealingly natural way, like wind-blown leaves—floating, tumbling, and gliding to unpredictable ends. Several guests, including Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista, Norwegian sound artist Maja Ratjke, and eccentric Japanese vocalist Makigami Koichi, contribute modestly here and there, but that's not to say Parkins and Mori need any help. —Peter Margasak

Jeremy Earl and Jarvis Taveniere, the core of WOODS, are so adept at conjuring up and sustaining a breezy, stoney mood that even the saddest cut from this spring's Songs of Shame (on Earl's superhot Woodsist label), "The Number," sounds like it was written in a park on a sunny summer afternoon. Woods' cheapo recording aesthetic often gets them tagged as part of the neo-lo-fi movement, and I suppose the shoe fits, but they're not just slumming in analog town—their skewed pop songs and Earl's thin falsetto are a natural match for their hazy sound, and the combination gives their music an edge of real weirdness. —Miles Raymer

This show is part of Adventures in Modern Music. Phantom Orchard headlines; Zola Jesus, the SUBARACHNOID SPACE, and Woods open. The Subarachnoid Space also plays Saturday at Reggie's Rock Club; see separate Critic's Choice. 9 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $18 ($50 five-day pass).

monday14

FELIX DA HOUSECAT Felix da Housecat's 2001 album, Kittenz and Thee Glitz, and its single "Silver Screen Shower Scene" represent the bulk of Chicago's contribution to the New York-centric electroclash boom in the first part of the decade, but their massive impact gave our city an outsize influence on the scene. Since then Felix's formula—pop structures and vocals merged with the sonics of house and electro—has become the dominant sound of the Top 40 charts, and his profile has been raised accordingly. Just now the Internet's going nuts over Lectro Black, his new collaboration with Diddy, who's lately gotten to be something of a dance-music junkie. It's hard to say how much of their new mix tape, Last Train to Paris, is Diddy's work—all I can be sure about is the occasional voice-over—but its chilly decadence is extremely pleasing. And if this project helps bring Felix's excellent new album, He Was King (Nettwerk), closer to the mainstream, then all the better. DJs Alex Peace, Steve Smooth, and Diz open. 9 PM, Green Dolphin Street, 2200 N. Ashland, 773-395-0066, $20, $10 before midnight, free before 11 PM with RSVP to boomboomroomchicago.com. —Miles Raymer

KEVIN O'DONNELL'S SEPTEMBER SPECTACULAR Kevin O'Donnell is probably best known for his collaborations with Andrew Bird—he was the original drummer in the Bowl of Fire and appears on some of Bird's solo records—but he's had his fingers in lots of pies. Over the years he's worked as a dancer, led his own group the Quality Six (which had two albums on Delmark), and composed, arranged, and performed music for theater and dance—in those departments especially his resumé is long and varied, including productions by Redmoon, Mad Shak, the House Theatre, the Hypocrites, Lookingglass, and Strawdog. For this show he'll draw on his diversity of collaborators for two ambitious sets. To kick off the evening, Los Hombres Perdidos guitarist Colin Bunn (also a veteran of the Bowl of Fire and the Quality Six) and percussionist Shu Shubat from the Jellyeye troupe will join O'Donnell in a king-size dance-party band, complete with horn and string sections; then O'Donnell and company will present a relatively somber new composition honoring Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first native-born United States citizen to become a Catholic saint. 8 PM, Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln, 773-404-9494 or 800-594-8499, $8. —Monica Kendrick

tuesday15

click to enlarge Paul Burch - MELISSA FULLER
  • Paul Burch
  • Melissa Fuller

PAUL BURCH Nashville's Paul Burch clearly savors the music of the 30s, 40s, and early 50s, when honky-tonk and the blues were still next-door neighbors, but though his sound is old-fashioned he mixes styles with a nonchalance that's thoroughly contemporary. On his latest album, Still Your Man (Ramseur), he gives Little Walter's "It Ain't Right" a Sun Studio-style Memphis shuffle, underlining the common ancestry of rockabilly and the blues, and his catchy, lived-in originals engineer dialogues between genres that have become sealed off from one another over the past four or five decades—a rumba feel pulses through the country number "Honey Blue," and he sings the 50s-style romantic pop ballad "Vena Amore" in a weathered croon that's a bit like the one Dylan used on Nashville Skyline. Burch recorded Still Your Man in his own Pan American Sound studio, giving it a spacious, homemade feel that reminds me of records by Buddy Miller—a kindred spirit to Burch in many ways. He'll play solo for part of his set and with members of the Waco Brothers for the rest; he's been working on an album with Jon Langford and promises to preview some of those tunes. Langford and the Horse's Ha open. 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $10 ($5 limited tickets). —Peter Margasak

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