The Bleader | Blog + Reader, the Chicago Reader's blog

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Books we can't wait to read in 2018

Posted By on 12.31.17 at 02:58 PM

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It's another year. Which promises to be not that much different from the shit show that was last year. But the publishing industry continues to churn, which is good news for those of us whose favorite form of escapism is books. Here's a list of the upcoming titles that have gotten us most excited—including but not limited to a guide to Swedish death cleaning and a thriller about a missing president cowritten by Bill Clinton.

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Friday, December 29, 2017

Norwegian reedist André Roligheten stepped up big in 2017

Posted By on 12.29.17 at 03:16 PM

André Roligheten - ANDREAS PALEOLOGOS
  • Andreas Paleologos
  • André Roligheten

I try to keep tabs on all the activity in Norway's jazz and improvised-music scene, but its strength and depth is such that I still get surprised regularly. I've been listening to saxophonist André Roligheten for years, but as much as I've enjoyed his contemplative, lyrical playing in long-running duo Albatrosh (with pianist Eyolf Dale), I feel like he's only come into his own in the past few years. He's done great things in the Ornette Coleman-inspired Friends & Neighbors and delivered some of his most inspired and expansive work in the trio Acoustic Unity, with bassist Petter Eldh and drummer and bandleader Gard Nilssen (a ubiquitous player with the likes of Cortex and Bushman's Revenge). I was honored to write liner notes for Acoustic Unity's 2017 album Live in Europe (Clean Feed), a bruising triple-disc set featuring guest saxophonists Fredrik Ljungkvist, Jørgen Mathisen, and Kristoffer Berre Alberts (who plays with Nilssen in Cortex). This year Roligheten has appeared on several other strong recordings, including the debut of a quartet also called Roligheten.

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The best things to do in Chicago on New Year's Eve

Posted By on 12.29.17 at 11:23 AM

The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard is part of a New Year's Eve double bill with The Infinite Wrench, the Neo-Futurists' successor to Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind. - COURTESY OF ARTIST
  • Courtesy of artist
  • The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard is part of a New Year's Eve double bill with The Infinite Wrench, the Neo-Futurists' successor to Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.


We've survived 364 days of this arduous year, so let's make the last one count. Kick 2017 to the curb, then kick it at one of our recommended New Year's Eve events:

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Judge blocks last-minute conservative attempt to prevent new Illinois abortion law from taking effect Monday, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 12.29.17 at 06:19 AM

Governor Bruce Rauner speaks at a news conference in Chicago. - AP PHOTO/TAE-GYUN KIM FILE
  • AP Photo/Tae-Gyun Kim File
  • Governor Bruce Rauner speaks at a news conference in Chicago.

Welcome to the Reader's weekday news briefing. Have a great weekend, and happy New Year!

  • Judge blocks last-minute conservative attempt to prevent new abortion law from taking effect Monday

On Thursday a judge blocked a conservative attempt to prevent a law legalizing publicly funded abortions from taking effect Monday. Catholic group the Thomas More Society had asked for an injunction on the grounds that some state taxpayers have a "sincere moral objection" to paying for state employees' and Medicaid recipients' abortions, as the new law requires. State rep Peter Green, a Lombard Republican who also serves as legal counsel to the society, argued that the law, signed by Governor Bruce Rauner despite conservative objections, had been passed too late in the year to go into effect January 1, and that the appropriate funding hadn't been appropriated. Associate circuit judge Jennifer ruled that these are "political" questions a judge shouldn't intervene in. Breen said he would appeal the ruling at the appellate court in Springfield Friday. [Tribune]

  • Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. running for Cook County judge spot

Alderman Howard Brookins Jr. is "running for the Cook County judge vacancy left by Valarie Turner, who was forced into retirement earlier this month for letting a clerk put on her robes to preside over traffic court," according to the Sun-Times. Brookins says he won't resign from the City Council unless he's elected, adding, "I always figured that there would be a point where my career would end in public service. I didn't think that opportunity would be there at this point in time. But I think it's time." [Sun-Times]

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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Cook County sues pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis, and other Chicago news

Posted By on 12.28.17 at 01:07 AM

The opiod oxycodone-acetaminophen - AP FILE PHOTO
  • AP file photo
  • The opiod oxycodone-acetaminophen


Welcome to the Reader's weekday news briefing.

  • Cook County officials sue pharmaceutical companies over opioid crisis

Cook County filed a lawsuit against leading U.S. pharmaceutical companies Wednesday "over their aggressive marketing of prescription opioid painkillers and the resulting climb in overdose and fatality rates countywide," according to the Sun-Times. The suit asks the companies for millions to help cover costs the opioid crisis has imposed on Cook County Jail and Cook County Hospital. [Sun-Times]

  • Mother of police shooting victim Quintonio LeGrier waits for answers

Quintonio LeGrier, 19, was shot and killed by a Chicago police officer on December 26, 2015, following a domestic disturbance call. LeGrier's family sued the Chicago Police Department just two days later, but the case is still tied up in court. The city quickly dropped a lawsuit it filed against the LeGrier's family in December, but Robert Rialmo, the officer who fatally shot both LeGrier and neighbor Bettie Jones, is countersuing both the family and the city, contending that LeGrier swung a bat at his head several times and failed to drop the bat when asked, giving him reason to believe that LeGrier would kill him unless he used deadly force. LeGrier's mother, Janet Cooksey, hopes to clear her son's name when the case finally goes to trial in June 2018. "I want everyone to see what I know: that he's a good person and he did the right thing," she said. "You don't call the police three times and then try to attack them when they come. I hope that's proven so everyone can know what I know." [Sun-Times]

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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Veteran Kenyan-Congolese band Orchestre les Mangelepa enter their fifth decade

Posted By on 12.27.17 at 01:32 PM

Orchestre les Mangelepa - COURTESY OF STRUT RECORDS
  • Courtesy of Strut Records
  • Orchestre les Mangelepa

In 2006 invaluable reissue label RetroAfric dropped Endurance, a collection of killer 70s grooves from Les Mangalepa, a band of Congolese expats making music in Kenya. Their irresistible blend of Congolese rumba and Kenyan benga combined bubbly, crystalline guitars with stuttering yet fluid rhythms that inflected their almost martial intensity with clave patterns adapted from Cuban music. A fleet horn section occasionally delivered extended solos, particularly on trombone—courtesy of Evany Kabila Kabanze, who was also one of the group's soulful singers. Looking back at the liner notes of that 2006 album, I was reminded that its title referred to the band's unbroken run—though they'd had a lot of personnel changes and it was sometimes unclear whether they'd manage to keep going, they'd stuck together continuously since 1976. That was when a group of musicians who'd moved to Nairobi a few years earlier as members of Baba Gaston's L'Orchestre Baba Nationale decided to strike out on their own.

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Friday, December 22, 2017

Adventurous jazz guitarist Brandon Seabrook embraces his metal roots

Posted By on 12.22.17 at 02:08 PM

Brandon Seabrook - REUBEN RADDING
  • Reuben Radding
  • Brandon Seabrook

I generally consider Brandon Seabrook a jazz guitarist, and over the years he's made plenty of recordings where he plays in that tradition, both in relatively straightforward bands led by the likes of Ben Allison, Jeremy Udden, and Eivind Opsvik and in unusually charged ways alongside folks such as saxophonist Chris Pitsiokos and drummer Tomas Fujiwara. Seabrook's main instrument is electric guitar, but he's also done a lot of fascinating playing on tenor banjo, including in Brian Carpenter's exploratory trad-jazz ensemble the Ghost Train Orchestra and his own early trio Seabrook Power Plant. But this year Seabrook has released two powerful records that explicitly tap into his roots in metal, though it'd be risky to describe them as either metal or jazz.

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Beyond Michelin: two new local restaurant guides written by locals

Posted By on 12.22.17 at 10:22 AM

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Ever since Michelin deigned to start reviewing Chicago restaurants back in 2010, its name has been the one most associated with print guides to local establishments, for better or worse. Last year Mike Gebert, editor of the Web publication Fooditor (and videographer for the Reader's Key Ingredient series), entered the fray with the Fooditor 99, subtitled "Where to eat (and what to eat there) in Chicago—right now! From the acclaimed local food site." He just released an updated version for 2018 that's about half new content, he says, between updated listings and the 30 or so restaurants that are new to the book this year.

Meanwhile, in September, local writer Matt Kirouac's Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago was published as part of the national Unique Eats series, which also includes guides to other cities. Like the Fooditor 99, it's a roundup of just under a hundred Chicago restaurants that aims to tell their stories while venturing off the beaten path a little (though there are plenty of popular, well-known places in addition to hole-in-the-wall joints). Struck by the similar approach the two authors took, I asked them a few questions about their respective guides and the process of creating them. (Responses have been edited for length and clarity.)

What made you want to write a restaurant guide to Chicago?

Kirouac: There's a strong sense of community among Chicago's restaurants, owners, chefs, bakers, pastry chefs, and brewers, and I wanted to celebrate that aspect of the industry more. Nowadays, so much of food journalism is tied up in clickbait-y headlines, buzzy news, splashy openings, and breaking stories, and this was a refreshing opportunity to dive more into the unique backstories of the myriad places throughout the city that make Chicago's dining scene so wonderful.

Gebert: When I first moved here there were several guides that I used to help discover the city—not just food but the city, period. In time, of course, that all moved to the Internet, and in many ways that was an improvement. And yet there's something to be said for a book as a format. It fits in your glove compartment, and there's something nice about a defined list that cuts down the world into an achievable chunk. Yelp has every place on earth in it—that's unmanageable. I have 99 choices I'll stand by for what they are.

Of course, the fact that most of the other guidebooks went away meant that there was only one dinosaur left standing—Michelin. But it's really not for you in your own city—it just approaches your town with a totally different tourist's viewpoint. So I thought there needed to be some book out there that was the counterbalance for Chicagoans, about discovering the neighborhoods and, frankly, being more willing to take a chance than someone from out of town is.

How did you decide what places to include?

Kirouac: I was mainly looking to create a wide mix of places in a variety of ways: geographic diversity throughout the city's neighborhoods, different price points, and different cuisines and concepts. Narrowing it down to roughly 90 venues was the most challenging part. Adhering to best-of type lists wasn't really a factor at all. There are certainly places I picked that are fixtures on these kinds of roundups, but if I didn't personally enjoy that restaurant, especially in comparison to more under-the-radar spots, then I would just omit it. A lot of those places are written to death already anyway.

Gebert: I approached it from the point of view of, what would I recommend if you asked me in person? What am I excited about right now? And I left out a number of places that are very well-known, highly acclaimed, and don't need my minimal help. You already know to go to Michelin favorites like Alinea or Grace, to Girl & the Goat or Big Star or Honey Butter Fried Chicken, bless 'em all. It just wasn't interesting to me to have to kick out two paragraphs saying basically what everyone says about all the places everyone knows, when I could use that space to point to things that aren't as well known—like the tasting menus at Arbor or Cellar Door Provisions, say.

If you had negative experiences or not-so-great dishes at a restaurant you liked overall, how did you approach it?

Kirouac: I didn't include anything negative in the book. Of course, there are places in the book where I've sometimes had gruff service, or other places can be aggravatingly crowded or difficult to get into, but I mainly just focused on the backstory behind these places, how they came to be, the chefs' inspirations and the parts of the restaurant that make it destination-worthy, be it a few standout dishes, a one-of-a-kind atmosphere, over-the-top service, or all of the above.

Gebert: That is tough because every time I write something negative, I can see the chef or owner being hurt (and there were definitely a couple of cases of that from the first edition). Part of the point of keeping it to 99 recommendations was to be able to only write positive reviews—if I don't like it, it doesn't make the list. But I don't think it's bad for anyone, customer or owner, if I'm steering people to your strengths. I love Daisies, the farm-to-table pasta place in Logan Square, but I didn't love their chicken last summer, and I say so. There is no possible bad outcome from people ordering more pasta at Daisies—I just went back there and it's wonderful as ever.

What information did you think was most important to include? Food, ambience, service, specialties (or all of the above)?

Kirouac: Specialties most importantly, honing in on dishes and aspects that are unique to the individual restaurants, like the various smoked fish at Calumet Fisheries, the "culinary beer" at Band of Bohemia, or the apple pie at Hoosier Mama. In my mind, specialties aren't necessarily always food though; they can be a form of service, a design scheme or transportive ambience. Like the starlit-night design at Italian Village, making the upstairs dining room feel like an Italian streetscape. Or the coal-fired oven at Coalfire, another example.

Gebert: Food, absolutely first and foremost. They should all be places where you get something that's noticeably above the other places offering something similar. Monteverde and Osteria Langhe have the best Italian food, comfortably, in the city. A Place by Damao has the best Chinese noodles and dumplings. But ambience is definitely part of it—hopefully there's a fitting match between, say, Chengdu street food and the atmosphere of Chinese people, heads down, slurping up spicy hot noodles. Service, I have to admit, I tend to only notice when it's bad, but almost every place in here is midwest-friendly. And in terms of specialties, well, I certainly want to point you to interesting things you can't get at the Denny's on the interstate. If somebody wants to offer something unique, there's a pretty good chance they're going to want to do it pretty well.

Both books are available through Amazon; Unique Eats & Eateries of Chicago can also be found at Barnes & Noble.

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Errol Morris’s Wormwood should have been a film, not a miniseries

Posted By on 12.22.17 at 09:00 AM

Peter Sarsgaard in Wormwood
  • Peter Sarsgaard in Wormwood
Now streaming on Netflix, Errol Morris's Wormwood might have made a superb two-hour feature—but as it stands, the series (which unfolds in six parts) runs twice that length. It's still an engaging and sometimes enthralling work, raising provocative questions about CIA conspiracies and how individuals reconcile with national history. Yet it's also repetitive and padded out, stuffed with stylistic flourishes that add little to the material. Wormwood continues Morris's investigation into dark corners of modern American history, making it of a piece with The Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedure, and The Unknown Known. It also breaks new ground for the acclaimed documentary filmmaker: Rather than staging brief, silent reenactments of events discussed by his interviewees (as he usually does), here Morris (working with writers Kieran Fitzgerald, Steven Hathaway, and Molly Rokosz) incorporates relatively lengthy dramatic episodes with actors and dialogue. These dramatic passages, though fitfully interesting, ultimately sink Wormwood, adding an unnecessary layer of distractions to an already knotty tale.

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It’s a Wonderful Life at Stage 773 and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 12.22.17 at 08:00 AM

James Joseph, Ian Paul Custer, Gwendolyn Whiteside, Zach Kenney, and Dara Cameron in It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • James Joseph, Ian Paul Custer, Gwendolyn Whiteside, Zach Kenney, and Dara Cameron in It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

Spend the long holiday weekend at one of Chicago's goings-on about town. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Agenda Teaser

Music
Drake, Migos United Center
August 17
Performing Arts
Bus Stop Athenaeum Theatre
July 19

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