Ensemble dal Niente braid together several Chicago-grown approaches to musical spontaneity | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Ensemble dal Niente braid together several Chicago-grown approaches to musical spontaneity 

click to enlarge Ken Vandermark

Ken Vandermark

Petra Cvelbar

Update: This show has been canceled to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Tickets will be refunded at point of purchase.


Ensemble dal Niente commissions and selects new music that justifies the word “new” not just because it’s recently composed; it also challenges players and audience alike to experience performances in new ways. The ensemble’s latest program draws on the resources of its city by including compositions by current and former Chicagoans, as well as by recruiting as a guest performer one of its most renowned extant improvisers, saxophonist and clarinetist Ken Vandermark. Each piece incorporates spontaneity and improvisation, but not necessarily by simply inviting chamber players to improvise like jazz musicians. Vandermark and the ensemble will begin with “Echo Piece,” originally written by local cellist Katinka Kleijn for multidisciplinary Chicago/New Orleans group the Instigation Orchestra. It calls for the performers to move around the balcony and main floor, sending and responding to musical messages that crescendo into a dense mass of competing communications and require the listener to decide which to focus on. Vandermark, who sometimes uses composed structures as starting points for intense, free-ranging improvisations, will follow this with a solo that incorporates themes written by late saxophonist Fred Anderson. Then Ensemble dal Niente will reprise “Hexis,” from their CD of compositions by trombonist, electronic musician, composer, and historian George Lewis. Its structure, which alternates repetitive and nonrepetitive passages, asks the listener to make real-time decisions about which elements of the mercurial piece to follow. Finally, Vandermark and Ensemble dal Niente will play two more pieces together. Anthony Braxton’s “Ghost Trance Music—Composition Nos. 193 + 228” combines two entries from a series of works designed to facilitate such combinations. And the newly commissioned “Last Train to Clover 5,” by woodwind player Roscoe Mitchell, is one of a series of Mitchell’s works whose scores are derived by rearranging transcripts of improvisations he played with keyboardist Craig Taborn and drummer Kikanju Baku. This is the first concert of a brief tour by Ensemble dal Niente and Ken Vandermark, which was to conclude at the now-canceled Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee.   v

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