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Friday, August 18, 2017

Chicago jazz bassist Joe Policastro shares a love for film and TV themes on his new trio album

Posted By on 08.18.17 at 02:00 PM

Joe Policastro Trio - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • courtesy of the artist
  • Joe Policastro Trio

Jazz has been a frequent partner to film and TV: consider Duke Ellington's peerless soundtrack for Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder, the improvisations that saxophonist Stan Getz brought to the Eddie Sauter score of Arthur Penn's bizarre Mickey One, or the brilliant atmospheres Miles Davis contributed to the Louis Malle film Ascenseur Pour L'echafaud. And naturally, jazz artists have also transformed countless movie and television themes, whether or not they were originally imagined as jazz, into primo raw material for improvisation. Chicago bassist Joe Policastro has taken the practice to heart in his current working trio with guitarist Dave Miller and drummer Mikel Avery; the group's terrific new album, Screen Sounds (JeruJazz), applies a diversity of approaches to all kinds of source material, consistently retaining the essence of the original works while boldly imprinting the trio's personality.

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Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Peter Perrett of England’s the Only Ones emerges triumphantly from under the rubble of addiction

Posted By on 08.15.17 at 12:00 PM

Peter Perrett - STEVE GULLICK
  • Steve Gullick
  • Peter Perrett

If American listeners know about British singer Peter Perrett, it's probably from the 1978 classic "Another Girl, Another Planet," a brilliant pop tune covered by the likes of the Replacements. In England Perrett's band the Only Ones, who originally cut the song, were would-be stars who made three albums before Perrett flamed out in the early 80s while fighting heroin addiction. He got his shit together to make a 1996 with a band called the One, and over the past few years he's been involved in occasional Only Ones reunion shows in Europe. But few would have expected that Perrett had a record as strong and convincing as the new How the West Was Won (Domino) left in his 66-year-old self.

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Friday, August 11, 2017

Vintage spiritual free jazz from the great Albert Ayler is back in circulation

Posted By on 08.11.17 at 02:00 PM

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Few record labels have been as committed to preserving and championing the legacy of saxophonist and musical visionary Albert Ayler as the Swiss label Hatology (née Hat Hut). Since releasing a stunning live recording Lörrach/Paris 1966 back in 1982—a collection of live material cut in the title cities, when the saxophonist was leading a remarkable lineup featuring his brother Donald on trumpet, violinist Michael Sampson, drummer Beaver Harris, and bassist William Folwell—the imprint has repeatedly issued various live and radio recordings Ayler made during his few European tours. Sometimes, as with last year's European Radio Studio Recordings 1964, Hatology has polished and produced legitimate, properly licensed reissues of previously manufactured, occasionally dodgy releases.

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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

An overlooked 1972 cut from singular southern soul singer Arthur Alexander

Posted By on 08.08.17 at 12:00 PM

Arthur Alexander - PHOTO BY JOHN DONEGAN
  • Photo by John Donegan
  • Arthur Alexander

Southern soul singer Arthur Alexander was always something of a square peg, making music that often split the difference between soul and country. His early work exerted more influence in the UK than in the U.S., and some of his best songs were immortalized in cover versions by the Beatles and Rolling Stones ("Anna" and "Soldier of Love" by the former, "You Better Move On" by the latter). In the late 80s I picked up a copy of the indispensable Ace compilation A Shot of Rhythm & Soul, and it's remained a favorite for three decades. I've also collected his less consistent later work, and I was heartened to see him rediscovered in the early 90s, after which he cut a wonderful album, the 1993 Elektra/Nonesuch release Lonely Just Like Me. He seemed on the brink of the late-career renaissance he deserved, but on June 3 of that year, just a few weeks after the record dropped, he suffered a fatal heart attack at age 53.

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Friday, August 4, 2017

Saxophonist JD Allen reacts to turbulent times by undoing and rebuilding his music’s structures

Posted By on 08.04.17 at 01:37 PM

JD Allen - ERIKA NJ ALLEN
  • Erika Nj Allen
  • JD Allen

Regular readers already know that saxophonist JD Allen has one my favorite jazz artists for nearly a decade, thanks largely to his limber, madly swinging trio with bassist Gregg August and drummer Rudy Royston. On a remarkable series of albums over the past decade—and a searing set at the 2016 Chicago Jazz Festival—this group has braided together motific improvisation and outward-bound searching, giving both an inexorable sense of propulsion and buoyancy. At the same time, it's rigorously retained many fundamental qualities of postbop, particularly the distinct voices of titanic saxophonists such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane. Allen's tone is reliably a thing of beauty, even when he occasionally alters this approach—as he did on the 2013 quartet album Grace (Savant), with a totally different band and a more pensive, inward-looking sound, augmented by the moody piano of Eldar Djangirov.

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Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Rediscovering the genius of the early B-52s

Posted By on 08.01.17 at 12:00 PM

The original B-52s lineup - COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS
  • Courtesy of the artists
  • The original B-52s lineup

We all know about how absence makes the heart grow fonder, but I think with music sometimes absence makes the ears grow sharper. A few weeks ago I stumbled across live footage of the B-52s playing "Private Idaho," and I couldn't tear myself away. In my teenage years, the B-52s were my gateway into nonmainstream music, opening the floodgates for every weird, outsider, and experimental act I've sought out in the decades since. But at a certain point I put those records away, metaphorically speaking. I could still enjoy them, but I'd come to see them as just silly pop. Encountering that performance of "Private Idaho" (a song from the group's second album, 1980's Wild Planet) made me reconsider my outlook, and now that I've dug out the band's self-titled 1979 debut, I'm the one who seems silly.

That record holds up remarkably well, with its uncanny mix of whimsy, catchiness, weirdness, and experimental impulses—the B-52s even seem to channel the vocal techniques of Yoko Ono on "Rock Lobster," whether they meant to or not. The production is amazing too, and to this day the album sounds like nothing else in the world, hijacking all kinds of kitschy musical tropes to create something dazzlingly original.

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Friday, July 28, 2017

Italian-born improvising percussionist Carlo Costa focuses on friction

Posted By on 07.28.17 at 02:00 PM

Carlo Costa - PETER GANNUSHKIN
  • Peter Gannushkin
  • Carlo Costa

Italian-born percussionist Carlo Costa has lived in New York since 2005, where he's enriched a variety of jazz-oriented projects with his turbulent, fascinating sense of propulsion. He's also developed another distinctive aesthetic, which for few years now he's showcased via his own Neither/Nor label, which releases Costa's music and that of his close collaborators: it's a texture-first approach, rooted in a strong improvisational ethos. Friction has a home at Neither/Nor.

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

West African stars Orchestra Baobob and Oumou Sangaré head in opposite directions on their first albums in years

Posted By on 07.25.17 at 12:00 PM

Orchestra Baobab's recent Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng
  • Orchestra Baobab's recent Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng

Two of West Africa's most storied acts put out terrific albums this spring: Senegal's Orchestra Baobab dropped Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng (World Circuit), its first new recording in nearly a decade, while powerful Malian singer Oumou Sangaré released Mogoya (No Format), her first in eight years. The former are one of world music's most reliable traditional ensembles, and Tribute to Ndiouga Dieng continues their embrace and reconsideration of their own rich past; the latter has made a decisive shift toward a more modern sound while retaining her music's roots in the Wassoulou region.

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Friday, July 21, 2017

Fred Lonberg-Holm’s song-oriented Seval releases its final album

Posted By on 07.21.17 at 02:00 PM


Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm is one of Chicago's staunchest advocates of free improvisation, but throughout his lengthy career he's also engaged with various pop modes. Groups such as Valentine Trio and Stirrup (his current band with band with bassist Nick Macri and drummer Charles Rumback) have braided together rigorous improvisation and richly melodic song forms. In the 90s Lonberg-Holm became a kind of unofficial house arranger for South Loop studio Truckstop, which produced recordings by the Boxhead Ensemble, Simon Joyner, and Sinister Luck Ensemble. But perhaps my favorite pop-influenced project of his has been Seval, a quintet with four of Sweden's strongest improvisers.

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Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chill summertime pop from a 1968 Steve Miller Band album

Posted By on 07.18.17 at 12:00 PM

The Steve Miller Band circa 1968, with Miller in the center - COURTESY OF THE ARTIST
  • Courtesy of the artist
  • The Steve Miller Band circa 1968, with Miller in the center

A few weeks ago I went to an afternoon party at Experimental Sound Studio to celebrate the weekly Option series organized by Ken Vandermark, Tim Daisy, and Andrew Clinkman. The series focuses on improvised music, but the entertainment for this event consisted of Vandermark, Daisy, and occasional Reader contributor John Corbett lined up behind a row of laptops, a CD player, and a turntable in ESS's outdoor garden, spinning just about anything but improvised music. Corbett played one song that immediately stopped me, a common experience when I hear him DJ—it sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn't place it.

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