Caffeine | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Caffeine 

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"Caffeine" once described this trio's recklessly wired sonic buzz perfectly: balls-to-the-wall free-improvised music that rarely took a breath. Yet over the course of their two-year existence, reedman Ken Vandermark, pianist Jim Baker, and percussionist Steve Hunt have stretched their kinetic attack to the point where tension-and-release, peaks-and-valleys density is as crucial as their unflagging energy. Caffeine takes models like Alex Schlippenbach's trio with Paul Lovens and Evan Parker or Cecil Taylor's with Jimmy Lyons and Andrew Cyrille and smears them with other, outside sounds: Vandermark, for example, who plays tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet, dumps out seemingly incongruous but highly effective bits of lopsided R & B honking, his Braxtonian probes segueing into guttural, choppy blurts. Baker's aggressively coloristic piano is rife with expected post-Taylor techniques, everything from clusters to pummeling sound sheets, but they're informed by a sensibility fond of classical music and Bill Evans. Steve Hunt's playing in Caffeine marks a radical departure from his better-known gig with the NRG Ensemble; more likely to disassemble time than keep it with this group, he provides gorgeous contrapuntal interaction and high-wire textural tension. It's visceral stuff that also happens to be intellectually rigorous, and you can catch a buzz off either angle. This performance celebrates the release of Caffeine's excellent self-titled debut CD, which is also the premier release on the new Okka Disk label, a Chicago concern dedicated to unjustly ignored jazzers--discs by Fred Anderson, Marilyn Crispell, and Peter Brotzmann are forthcoming. Sunday, 7 PM, HotHouse, 1565 N. Milwaukee; 235-2334.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Marty Perez.

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