Chris Speed Trio | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Chris Speed Trio 

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CHRIS SPEED TRIO

On their recent album, Iffy (Knitting Factory), Chris Speed's trio looks like a traditional organ combo, but he plays with the form's conventions at every turn. The well-named opener, "A Little Odd," swings straightforwardly at first, as keyboardist Jamie Saft lays down a walking bass line, but then Speed pulls out his clarinet, and his liquid tone makes for a strange mix of colors with the soulful sound of the organ. A couple of tenor ballads get unusual twists, too: Saft offsets Speed's breathy lines on the brief "Part III" with dark harmonies, while the pretty melody on "Slippers" eschews the organ's usual grease for a delicate, poppy hookiness. Not surprisingly, a few of the tunes recall the experiments Speed has performed with drum 'n' bass and eastern European folk in his Yeah No quartet: on the breakneck "Graphic Ridiculous," drummer Ben Perowsky approximates splattery jungle, Saft floats in choppy streams of floor-rumbling low end, and Speed blows furiously zigzagging clarinet lines that almost flaunt their cold precision. "Gina" opens with Perowsky playing a funky breakbeat and Saft sketching a simple, mournful chord progression, but as Speed tears into his bag of Balkan tricks, the tension shifts, the drums become more kinetic and insistent, and the organ licks verge on klezmer. The most extreme piece is "Skipping Really High," where Speed's overblown clarinet squeals form an unholy bond with a shrill organ drone before the tune morphs into a melancholy lullaby. This is the trio's Chicago debut. Wednesday, April 4, 10 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western; 773-276-3600.

PETER MARGASAK

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

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