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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Jazz bassist Matt Ulery blends styles and scenes with his multifarious new project

Posted By on 10.16.18 at 03:57 PM

Bassist and composer Matt Ulery - HARVEY TILLIS
  • Harvey Tillis
  • Bassist and composer Matt Ulery

For all the contributions that bassist and composer Matt Ulery makes to the Chicago jazz scene—whether via his own music or via platforms he creates—he rarely pats himself on the back. He's not a gratuitous self-promoter either, preferring to let his music speak for itself. And there's a lot of it to speak: the brand-new Sifting Stars is Ulery's eighth album as a bandleader since his debut in 2008. He also plays as a sideman in uncountable groups (ad hoc as well as established), leads weekly jams at the Whistler with drummer Quin Kirchner, and runs his own label, Woolgathering Records.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Soul singer Christian JaLon turns her love inward on the new If You Let Me

Posted By on 08.28.18 at 12:23 PM

  • Ray Abercrombie
  • Christian JaLon

Earlier this summer, Chicago soul artist Christian JaLon released "Getting to Know Vinyled Love," a short behind-the-scenes documentary about the making of her 2017 EP Vinyled Love. On that EP, she'd tried to convey what love means to her—though it was inspired by a specific relationship, she connected those feelings to her understanding of divine love, which has its roots in her connection to the church. But now that relationship is over, and on her latest EP, If You Let Me (released August 20), JaLon is ready to cleanse her musical mind of love—at least romantic love. It's the last project she has planned before her debut album, due in 2019.

"The content that I put into If You Let Me are really just residual feelings from Vinyled Love," she says. "They both came from the same place—I just wanted to get it all out. After this, I really won't have any more love songs in me for a while."

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Improvising horn trio Spectral play with the colossal reverb in an abandoned munitions bunker

Posted By on 04.18.18 at 11:04 AM

Spectral: Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston, and Larry Ochs - COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS
  • Courtesy of the artists
  • Spectral: Dave Rempis, Darren Johnston, and Larry Ochs

There's always been a chamber-music feel to the trio of trumpeter Darren Johnston and saxophonists Dave Rempis and Larry Ochs, now known as Spectral (the title of their 2014 debut album). Their output is entirely improvised, but the players carefully navigate space together to create their spontaneous melodic fragments and sophisticated counterpoint. One can image several approaches for an improvising trio consisting of three horn players—a monolithic group sound, brute-force blowing, strings of solos over vamps—but Spectral builds multipartite pieces with compositional logic, wending from one passage to the next via organic links and deftly responding to one another.

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Friday, April 13, 2018

Reedist Aram Shelton reconnects with old friends on his first return visit since 2015

Posted By on 04.13.18 at 07:07 PM

  • Lenny Gonzalez
  • Aram Shelton

For the first few years after reedist Aram Shelton left Chicago for the Bay Area in 2005, he returned often enough that you might not have realized he was gone. He maintained close ties with musicians here, and for a while those older partnerships were more fruitful than his efforts in California. But as Shelton developed solid working bands in his new home, his visits to Chicago tapered off—and since moving to Copenhagen in 2016, he hasn't made it back here at all. He's found yet another new circle of collaborators in Denmark, and he's about to have to do it all over again—he and his wife are moving to Budapest, Hungary.

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Friday, April 6, 2018

Singular pianist and musical mind Cecil Taylor has died at 89

Posted By on 04.06.18 at 12:34 PM

This morning I woke to the news that pianist Cecil Taylor had died on Thursday in his Brooklyn home at age 89. Sometimes artists of Taylor's stature are so ingrained in your consciousness that they become part of you, whether they're alive or dead. He came out of jazz and belonged to it, but beginning the late 50s he bucked the tradition in every way, blazing a trail all his own. He was an artist in the largest possible sense, and he committed his life to making something unique and personal. He never faltered in that commitment, and like a handful of other uncompromising artists to emerge from jazz at the time—especially Ornette Coleman—he endured years of neglect and ridicule before people eventually caught up with his original vision and recognized it for its genius.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Italian quartet Roots Magic illuminate the links between rustic blues and earthy free jazz

Posted By on 04.04.18 at 02:55 PM

  • Courtesy the artist
  • Roots Magic

Since its beginnings, jazz has engaged with popular music, but it's largely built on the blues—throughout jazz's history, countless staples of its repertoire have pushed the genre forward using variants of the elemental blues structure. Blues feeling is integral to jazz as well, whether the quasi-microtonal cry of blue notes or the expressive style of articulation in its sobs and shouts. As jazz has developed, it's often departed from these roots, but even during the heyday of free jazz in the 60s and 70s artists found ways to meld freedom and heavy blues into something profound and gritty: pioneers such as Julius Hemphill, Olu Dara, Phil Cohran, and Henry Threadgill could write deceptively simple, soulful themes whose broad improvisational latitude their bandmates brilliantly exploited.

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Friday, March 23, 2018

Drummer and bandleader John Hollenbeck reaches new heights on his new Large Ensemble album

Posted By on 03.23.18 at 01:32 PM

  • Scott Friedlander
  • John Hollenbeck

With every passing year percussionist John Hollenbeck has upped his game as a composer and arranger, writing increasingly ambitious material for his two primary groups: the chamber-music-like Claudia Quintet and the richly orchestrated Large Ensemble. He's a devoted student of jazz's big-band tradition, cleaving unapologetically to ambitious composers and arrangers such as his longtime mentor Bob Brookmeyer. Earlier this year his Large Ensemble dropped its strongest album yet, All Can Work (New Amsterdam), which resonates more for me with every listen—it rarely connects directly with conventional big-band jazz, focusing instead of vibrant harmony, intricate moving parts, and bursts of sonic color. It's a dense and varied piece of work, dazzling its detail and harmonic richness, and rather than incorporating a thematic thread or organizing principle, it relies for its cohesion on the strength of the pieces and how they're sequenced.

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Friday, March 9, 2018

Pianist Jason Moran drops a recording of Looks of a Lot, his collaboration with a slew of Chicago artists

Posted By on 03.09.18 at 01:07 PM

  • Clay Patrick McBride
  • Jason Moran

Nearly four years ago pianist Jason Moran descended on Chicago to debut Looks of a Lot, an ambitious multimedia commission from Symphony Center. It grew out of a loose collaboration with artist and activist Theaster Gates into a sweeping salute to the profundity and resilience of Chicago's creative music tradition on the south side. Moran voraciously absorbs art in all forms, and as the project developed he began enlisting a diverse cast from Chicago: reedist Ken Vandermark, whom he'd recently started performing with; singer and bassist Katie Ernst, whom he first encountered in 2012 through the Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center, where he's artistic adviser for jazz, in Washington, D.C.; and the high-caliber student band from Hyde Park's Kenwood Academy, conducted by Gerald Powell and Bethany Pickens (Moran first heard them at the urging of Bethany's late father, pianist Willie Pickens, when they performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2013). The piece premiered on May 30, 2014, in a tightly choreographed performance at Symphony Center with a set designed by Gates.

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Masterful but overlooked Chicago jazz drummer Robert Barry has died

Posted By on 03.06.18 at 02:24 PM

Robert Barry, left, with Fred Anderson - JIM NEWBERRY
  • Jim Newberry
  • Robert Barry, left, with Fred Anderson

It's always sad when an important artist passes away, but it's sadder when that passing goes unnoticed. Today I learned that great Chicago drummer Robert Barry died on January 8 at age 85, at Chalet Living and Rehab at 7350 N. Sheridan. And as far as I can tell, aside from his obituary nothing has been written about it—the only reason I can imagine for this state of affairs is that the people in a position to publish something just don't know he's gone. Barry was a quiet man in life and music, a lean and subtle drummer with a tightly coiled swing and an adaptable aesthetic—but as powerful as his presence, creativity, and rhythmic drive could be, he never let them distract from the design of whatever band he played in.

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Chicago musical polymath Ben LaMar Gay breaks even his own shape-shifting mold on his solo debut

Posted By on 03.05.18 at 08:00 AM

  • Maren Celest
  • Ben LaMar Gay

Chicago's Ben LaMar Gay is one of the most mercurial musicians in a city full of them. He's a jazz cornetist who came up through the AACM and then spent several years living and working in Brazil earlier in the decade. He's logged time in jazz groups such as Mike Reed's Flesh & Bone and Greg Ward's 10 Tongues, but one of his most exciting projects, Bottle Tree, is a progressive R&B trio. He's also worked with Joshua Abrams, Makaya McCraven, Theaster Gates, and Nicole Mitchell, as well as with underground weirdos El Is a Sound of Joy. He loves music and doesn't care where it takes him.

One of the frustrating things about my job is trying to persuade the general public that, say, not only might a jazz cornetist be interested in Brazilian music and soul, but also that he can play all of it with assurance, originality, and precision. Musicians are often just as omnivorous in their tastes and interests as listeners are, and Gay is a model for such broad thinking and creativity.

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