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Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Music critic Peter Margasak says farewell and thanks to the Reader and to Chicago

Posted By on 09.05.18 at 01:16 PM


  • James Ihejirika/Chuks Spotting

I have a handful of concert previews already written for the next two issues of the Reader, but now I'm sitting in a friend's apartment, with almost everything I own in storage, on the eve of leaving the city I've called home for 34 years—this post will be the last thing I write for the paper for the foreseeable future, and it's definitely my farewell as a staff member.

The Reader has been my professional home since 1993, when writer Bill Wyman, managing editor Alison True, and editor in chief Michael Lenehan decided it would be a good idea to bring some of the cocky snark of my old zine Butt Rag into the pages of the paper. When I started a freelance Reader column called Spot Check (later taken over by Monica Kendrick), I had no idea that I'd be hired as a staffer in 1995—much less that I'd still be writing for a paper I loved dearly 25 years later. That run ends today. I'll be spending the next year in Italy, at the American Academy in Rome, where I've been accepted into the institution's Visiting Artists & Scholars Program. I plan to work on a book about the collision of free jazz, experimental music, and underground rock in Chicago covering roughly the years 1992 through 2002.

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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

New $50,000 prize in improvised music gives its first awards to Joe McPhee and Susan Alcorn

Posted By on 07.10.18 at 10:00 AM

  • Photos by Peter Gannushkin / and Andy Newcombe
  • Joe McPhee and Susan Alcorn

This morning Chicago art gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey—which also runs a superb record label under the same name, focusing on jazz and improvisation—announced the winners of the first Instant Award in Improvised Music. The honor, which includes an unrestricted prize of $50,000, is the first of its kind celebrating improvised music. Major awards such as the MacArthur Fellowship or the Herb Alpert Award in the Arts have occasionally gone to musicians who work extensively in improvisation, among them Ken Vandermark, Matana Roberts, and Nicole Mitchell, but never has such a lofty prize focused exclusively on the practice.

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Monday, June 18, 2018

Saxophonist Tim Berne strengthens his bond with pianist Matt Mitchell on the knotty new Angel Dusk

Posted By on 06.18.18 at 05:39 PM

Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne - ROBERT LEWIS
  • Robert Lewis
  • Matt Mitchell and Tim Berne

Tuesday night saxophonist Tim Berne performs with a top-notch quartet called Broken Shadows that's devoted to the music of three brilliant reedists from Fort Worth, Texas: Ornette Coleman, Dewey Redman, and Julius Hemphill. I previewed the concert, which is the Chicago debut of this new band—which also includes reedist Chris Speed, drummer Dave King, and bassist Reid Anderson—but I didn't make much of the contrast between Berne's slinky, blues-streaked playing in this quartet and the tangled, information-packed style he's pursued elsewhere for years. It's that difference that makes Broken Shadows unique.

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Thursday, June 7, 2018

Celebrating the work that iconic Chicago saxophonist Von Freeman did with Sun Ra

Posted By on 06.07.18 at 04:03 PM

Vincent Chancey has played with the Arkestra on and off since the late 1960s. - R.I. SUTHERLAND-COHEN
  • R.I. Sutherland-Cohen
  • Vincent Chancey has played with the Arkestra on and off since the late 1960s.

All year the Jazz Institute of Chicago has been celebrating the legacy of singular tenor saxophonist and crucial mentor Von Freeman, who would've turned 95 in October (he died in 2012). Friday night's concert is built around the music of pianist, composer, and bandleader Sun Ra, but it's part of the Freeman series too—Freeman played in the Arkestra off and on in 1959 and '60, shortly before Ra and his group left Chicago in '61. Freeman also worked with Sun Ra (born Herman Blount) in 1948 and '49, years before he formed the Arkestra. The saxophonist doesn't appear on any known Sun Ra recordings, but it's easy to see how he got involved: like many other Arkestra members (saxophonists John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, and Charles Davis, trombonist Julian Priester, bassist Ronny Boykins), he'd studied under the direction of Captain Walter Dyett at DuSable High School.

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Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Lavinia Meijer rethinks the typically ornate sound of the harp for a minimalist repertoire

Posted By on 06.05.18 at 01:52 PM

Lavinia Meijer - ROBIN DE PUY
  • Robin de Puy
  • Lavinia Meijer

The harp company Lyon & Healy, immortalized in the title of the 1995 Gastr del Sol album The Harp Factory on Lake Street, has been producing high-end instruments since opening in 1889. This week it hosts a four-day concert series that showcases an impressive variety of approaches to the harp. I've already previewed Thursday's show by Brandee Younger, who's following the jazz harp tradition blazed by Dorothy Ashby and Alice Coltrane, and on Wednesday evening the series opens with a performance by Korean-born, Dutch-raised classical harpist Lavinia Meijer, who's tailoring the typically florid sound of her instrument to a minimalist repertoire.

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Stephen Malkmus addresses the politics of today while Portland band Lithics summon the postpunk of the past

Posted By on 06.01.18 at 04:14 PM

  • Photos by Giovanni Duca (Malkmus) and Christie MacLean
  • Stephen Malkmus (left) and Lithics

It's a little crazy to think that Steve Malkmus has been fronting the Jicks for half again as long as he served as the face of indie-rock paragons Pavement—maybe it just seems like a shorter span to me because his solo work has never resonated the same way his old band did. A couple weeks ago, Malkmus dropped his seventh solo album, Sparkle Hard (Matador), and though I don't see it restoring him to his 90s relevance, it's far more direct and less fussy than most Jicks records—it's my favorite thing he's done since Pavement called it quits in 1999.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Taralie Peterson of Spires That in the Sunset Rise and Chicago noise veteran Andy Ortmann celebrate new albums

Posted By on 05.30.18 at 05:51 PM

Andy Ortmann (left) and Taralie Peterson - BOTH IMAGES COURTESY THE ARTIST
  • Both images courtesy the artist
  • Andy Ortmann (left) and Taralie Peterson

It's been four years since Ka Baird of Spires That in the Sunset Rise moved from Madison to New York, and while she continues to work with bandmate Taralie Peterson (who's still in Madison), by necessity they've devoted more energy to solo projects lately. Tomorrow night they're both in Chicago (where Spires came into their own in the aughts as an engagingly odd psych-folk combo) for a concert at the Owl, but they're not actually performing together. Baird will play in the duo Body Love with percussionist Michael Zerang, who's made a couple fascinating albums with Spires in the past few years. Peterson will perform under the name Louise Bock, which she also uses on the strong new solo album she's celebrating at this show, Repetitives in Illocality (Feeding Tube).

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Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rockefeller Chapel presses its majestic carillon into service for a two-day festival of new music

Posted By on 05.24.18 at 02:26 PM

Rockefeller Chapel. The carillon is at the top of the tower. - EDEN SABALA
  • Eden Sabala
  • Rockefeller Chapel. The carillon is at the top of the tower.

If you've spent much time on the University of Chicago campus, you've heard the chiming bells of the Rockefeller Chapel carillon carrying across the grounds. I'd been hearing them for years before I learned how impressive the instrument actually is—the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Carillon, installed in 1932 following a two-year casting process, includes 72 bells totaling 100 tons of bronze, controlled by an array of keys and pedals. Its low C bell is the third largest tuned bell in the world. Carillons seem suited to traditional and liturgical music, not least because they're often installed in church towers, but over their 500-year history they've also been used for very different sorts of sounds.

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Monday, May 21, 2018

After a chilly breakup record, Dirty Projectors regain their bubbly ebullience on Lamp Lit Prose

Posted By on 05.21.18 at 05:51 PM

  • Jason Frank Rothenberg
  • Dirty Projectors

Last year Dirty Projectors released a tortured breakup album, Dirty Projectors, that chronicled the acrimonious 2016 split between band mastermind David Longstreth and singer-guitarist Amber Coffman. Its heavy-handed retelling was from Longstreth's point of view, since Coffman had quit the group—joining Angel Deradoorian and Olga Bell on the list of crucial members who've left Dirty Projectors since 2012.

The 2017 album features longtime drummer Mike Johnson, plus instrumental support from members of New York chamber ensemble yMusic, modular synth maven Tyondai Braxton, and Brazilian percussionist Mauro Refosco, among others—Longstreth has never had trouble recruiting extra hands. But he handled the lion's share of the playing himself—vocals, guitar, keyboards, bass, programmed beats—and also arranged the string and horn parts. The music is characteristically dense, with rich harmonies and dizzyingly complex arrangements, but it's much more sterile than usual for Dirty Projectors—while breakup albums are rarely joyful, this one feels bereft of anything but analytical finger pointing, its emotional color oddly cold.

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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Guitarist Marc Ribot summons the righteous fury of 80s hardcore on the new Ceramic Dog album

Posted By on 05.16.18 at 03:45 PM

Ceramic Dog: Ches Smith, Shahzad Ismaily, Marc Ribot - EBRU YILDIZ
  • Ebru Yildiz
  • Ceramic Dog: Ches Smith, Shahzad Ismaily, Marc Ribot

When you listen to YRU Still Here? (Northern Spy), the militant new album by guitarist Marc Ribot and his long-running trio Ceramic Dog, practically the first thing you notice is Ribot's sneering anger. On the opening track, "Personal Nancy," he shrieks with almost strangulated fury, "I got a right to say fuck you!"—which seems to break the dam on a flood of invective directed at the Trump administration. At first the band's wrath feels as indiscriminate as machine gun fire, but soon it becomes clear that Ribot and his partners—drummer Ches Smith and bassist Shahzad Ismaily—are directing their ire at deep-seated racism, discrimination, and anti-immigrant politics.

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